On “Parties, Socialism, and Liberation”; Calling Out PSL and Controlled Opposition.
ON FREEING PEOPLE
Last month, I returned from Vegas, hungover and broke, to find Portland had erupted into protest for a Free Palestine. Since that day I have joined the rallies and marches every week, as we organize against the genocide in Gaza, and the teacher’s strike for safe schools.
At the end of the last march around the inner Southeast, my friend and I were unsure of the value of coming back to another Saturday protest. Last week’s action led us in the simple 5 by 5 block radius through a residential neighborhood, and Division and Hawthorne streets.
We watched as the strategy repeated week after week, and couldn’t help but feel disappointment. We had a critical mass for the month after that thousands joined rallies to demand a ceasefire. For weeks those thousands could have organized meaningfully to pressure politicians and people in positions of power to advocate for an end to apartheid.
Now mind you, in the beginning, these gatherings are vital. Peaceful protests that do little but disrupt traffic can help to draw out numbers and recruit to the cause. Marches are also a great way for families to participate, and to bring their children to educate them on activism and human rights. Events should be accessible in order to engage activists and create a presence. It is helpful to muster an army, it is what to do with that army afterwards that is the next step.
So last week, when the march ended a short time after it started, back at a neighborhood park, we shook our heads and denounced the lack of any type of direct action. When an elderly Arab man stopped, and thanked the two of us for showing up for his people, we were reminded of why these gatherings matter in the first days of a movement.
Last week marked the first week the Saturday call to action was not explicitly FreePeoplePDX. Rather a collection of leftist organizations called for a rally and FreePeoplePDX signed on and canceled their own rally later in the day. But in the end, the same group that had taken over to lead the protests in Portland every Saturday had again filled in the role of the protest leaders.
We collectively agreed, we’d give it another week and see what happened. If things continued in controlled opposition, we’d find our own way to fight for a Free Palestine. That Saturday I worked, and afterwards I made my way to City Hall for a rally called for by FreePeoplePDX. I arrived over half an hour after people began to gather. The crowd size was a portion of the week before. When I made my way through the crowd, it was about 200 people,
All throughout my shift, two words cycled round and round again. A term that my housemates and I had discussed while high as a kite the night before. I had drawn out, by hand a map of who was connected to who in leading the protests demanding a ceasefire. And over and over we shouted “Controlled Opposition”.
The small crowd filled the plaza and chanted the same lines we were about to repeat throughout downtown. “From the River to the Sea!” followed by, “Palestine Will Be Free!”. The energy was lackluster. There was a light mist of rain and the sky was a bit gray. I can imagine that many shared the same exhaustion of me and my comrades. That we were tired of showing up to repeat the same actions. Actions that were not working to even get media attention, let alone ensure an end to the onslaught of innocents. That perhaps this same strategy and those who engaged in it, was in many ways “Controlled Opposition”.
Out of nowhere, I watched as the same man dominating the microphone every week wandered into the crowd. He proceeded to go straight to the middle, and took over the direction of the crowd. In the middle of the circle, he repeated the lines he led every week.
Consider that the day before, the organizers of the event had separated themselves from him. No doubt hearing complaints about his co-opting of the marches and the patriarchy of the organizing, FreePeoplePDX made a public story on their social media.
They announced that “the man who keeps taking over the mic” was not a part of their group, and that their group was composed solely of a few Arab women. They claimed that the group of men that took over the events every week were unaffiliated with them, and that one man wasn’t even local and rather traveled from Seattle to join in the weekly demonstrations. In the last month, we have witnessed a truck with Thin Blue Line flags helping to lead the protests. They then asked for a sound truck to facilitate those leading chants the next day.
Now mind you, the week before that, or two weeks prior, the main man in question had criticism for peace policing. Not only does he begin every rally by demanding no property destruction, vandalism or “rowdiness”; he also is notorious for militant peace policing, enforced by the group of men that co-opt the crowds. Those that fell out of line with the behaviors these organizers deemed appropriate were physically attacked. This includes people that have denounced or flipped off members of the police force and federal officers.
The worst witnessed by a comrade of mine, was when two Arab women were part of the protest near the Starbucks. I had taken a photo of the banners one of these women held, lined in red with the names of dead Palestinian children. As the crowd chanted “FUCK STARBUCKS”, the women wandered over to the windows and proceeded to pound their fists on the glass. They were drawing attention to the names of the dead written on the white canvas. The men stepped in and told them to get away from the building, as they made a line. The women were not engaging in militant tactics, as they did not intend to break the windows. They only demanded the customers join them in boycotting the chain.
And to dissuade any concerns that they were infiltrators and their leadership not to be trusted, they stated again that they were completely opposed to any type of vandalism or violence, and that such people were unwelcome at their events. Apparently the week before had seen a few tags on banks during the march, which led to no trouble. In fact, working on Hawthorne the day after I walked by casually as the workers easily cleaned off the paint.
So you can imagine my confusion as I watched the same man that had triggered a tirade from the organizing group, wander back in to once again insert himself as the leader. As he continued unabated, I wandered to the front of the rally, where some protesters began to line up on the street, and the motorcade prepared for the procession.
I noticed the usual banners were gone, replaced with new people. The crowd at this point was at most 400. The same group of Arabs that had led the march with their banners in the weeks prior were not in attendance. The banners that normally read “FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA, PALESTINE WILL BE FREE” and “BOYCOTT DIVESTMENT & SANCTIONS UNTIL PALESTINE IS FREE” were no longer at the front line.
Instead I spotted two banners. One read like the former, “FROM THE RIVER…”, but had “ANTI-IMPERIALIST ACTION” with the Antifascist double-flag, as well as a new symbol I had not yet seen. Another banner read “FREE PALESTINE, INDIGENOUS SOLIDARITY” with a checkered pattern.
I noticed the banner-bearers of the one with the strange symbol. Their kufiyas were red, and I asked one of them if it was intentional. They confirmed my question and told me it was the Palestinian Liberation Front, a Marxist uprising that had taken up arms against the Israeli occupiers alongside Hamas.
Thanking them for their input, I went back over to my group. We watched the crowd, and waited for when they would march. Meanwhile, we whispered about what we wondered, whether this man was trustworthy. We watched him shut down any type of direct action. Even something as simple as pounding on a window to get the customers to know their coffee funds killing children.
As we stood on a curb, a woman walked by us and asked us to move to the side. She told us the banner would be coming through and that they needed us to wait until after it passed to move. I found it odd, considering we were nowhere near the banner. To add, I am known to place myself at the front, to film any fascists who would attempt an auto or armed attack. The organizers were policing our stance, before the march even began.
The crowd split as the man with the megaphone led the mass onto the pavement. In front of the banners, he paused and made a loud declaration. He warned that he didn’t want to see any vandalism or “violence” of any sort. If someone were agitating the crowd or being confrontational, we were told to completely ignore them. And he cautioned that should anyone engage in tactics he did not condone, a group of men would force supporters out of the crowd.
His warning was met by a few hands clapping, no doubt the organizers that he supposedly did not represent. “Why are you clapping?”, my friend asked aloud. It was the final sentence that left me with a sour taste in my mouth. That not only would they not allow a single act past peaceful protest that had become a parade; but their words would be enforced through a small patriarchal hierarchy.
At that point, he led the crowd forward. My friends and I shook our heads, muttering our sheer shock at the system of peace policing so readily accepted by activists. Especially when, the day before, FreePeoplePDX pretended to separate themselves from the peace police steering the protests.
We decided to abandon the event and to discuss what we had just witnessed. “The word of the day,” I told a comrade. “The word of the day is controlled opposition.”.
To note, I do not engage in the tactics condemned by the organizers and FreePeoplePDX. However, as someone with a few years of experience in activism, I understand how non-violence, and even the lack of nonviolent civil disobedience, protects the state.
As I study protest movements, I understand what it takes to demand change and fight for liberation. Our greatest achievements in the progress of human and labor rights have been achieved through militant means. From Haymarket Square came the 5-day work week; and the Vietnam War was protested by college students burning down their campuses and crashing the Democratic National Convention.
One has to consider how the Palestinians revolt against the occupiers in their homeland. For weeks we learned nothing, as we chanted “RESISTANCE IS JUSTIFIED WHEN PEOPLE ARE OCCUPIED!”.
However, while I admire insurrectionary anarchism, I am of the opinion that this is not the first step. At the very least, to push the protests into the next phase, Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA) is vital.
And so we sat and discussed the course of the protest movement for Palestine, here in the Rose City and the parties involved. Who had led the various events called in the weeks following the Israeli response? Who had wrestled themselves into positions of power? What had their strategies been and what were they achieving? What were they trying to achieve? These questions weighed on all of us and we did our best to answer what we could.
Now, I will try to record these reflections in writing, as a warning from those who are witness to what is happening. Throughout this analysis, the word of the day is “Controlled Opposition”.
ON PARTIES, SOCIALISM, AND LIBERATION
There is obviously a difference between ideological and controlled opposition. As an anarchist, I find NVDA to be a tactic that aids the state. Our collective rage that could be used to organize against targets that enable the slaughter; is instead used in a pattern of completely peaceful protests, policed to a point of procession. Too many anarchists condemn tactics they understand to be insufficient as controlled, as opposed to, ideological opposition. This situation however, is much more complex.
The organizers had led us in a meaningless march for weeks, forbidding any type of direct confrontation with the politicians and companies gaining from the genocide in Gaza. They refused to allow even insignificant actions that could challenge the status quo, such as setting a canvass of the names of the dead in front of customers at a Starbucks.
It is difficult to divide FreePeoplePDX and the man controlling the crowd. While they announced that he and his security crew were unaffiliated, they allowed him to become the de facto leader, and enforce his decrees on those in solidarity with Palestine. And they’ve proven as well that they are at least ideologically on the side of police. None of the men who are asserting authority are Palestinians, it should be noted.
Earlier in the week, FreePeoplePDX had hosted a video presentation for those who wanted to work with them as they organized actions and protests. They had explained to those attending their goal in all of this, continued marches as well as pressuring the same senator and representatives that they had held rallies outside their offices in the weeks prior.
Above all, they declared their desire for those in attendance to disband their own groups and organize under their banner, or a new one. The new group would not only become the sole leadership, but all authority would be placed under the power of a single person. Of those in attendance, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) was the only organization onboard. As we’ll discuss, the PSL is already an authoritarian arm of activists.
This week, FreePeoplePDX promoted a protest that will be taking place at the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, which happens the day after Thanksgiving every year. Multiple factions had discussed this tactic, to draw attention to the genocide. However, we had determined in our discussions that these plans were best kept private, in order to ensure the action would not be thwarted.
Instead, the group shared the flier on social media as if it were their proposed protest, and announced the intent to disrupt the public event. This not only compromises the safety of activists who choose to heed the call to action, it also risks the ability of the action to complete its means. Police will already be vigilant, partially due to past attacks on the ceremony, and at a time of political tension. As a part of the post publicly proclaiming the protest, they also posted the separate event put on by the PSL.
In the meantime, the PSL’s organizing must be called to account. A day after the bombs began to fall on Gaza, a protest was held at the gentrified buildings with the strange paint job and different-sized windows, on the east side of the Burnside Bridge. The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) had set up the rally for a ceasefire, complete with speakers and mass-printed signs.
At that first rally, before my vacation in Vegas, the small march meandered down the sidewalk, around the Moda Center, and ended within an hour. But in the weeks following, the PSL had latched itself onto the legions of actions called. And several specific stories tell you all you need to know about their threat to protest movements.
Before, we were all aware of PSL as a cult that continually tried to co-opt protest movements. It was also proven that the party spoke with police. Evidence exists of the incidents in which PSL has coordinated with cops to confine the bloc and arrest anarchists.
Now they are organizing under their banner, and trying to get people involved with their cult. While they announce rallies, the stickers and patches they sell have been self-admittedly used not for Palestinian or Arab mutual aid, but rather for organizational funds for the PSL.
As if that wasn’t enough, the PSL has been under fire due to their direct actions that put people in danger. For example, their first criticism came from the action at the office of Senator Merkley in downtown Portland.
By the time I made it to Merkley’s office, I found a crowd still gathered, but nowhere near what I was told. Upstairs, the entrances to the senator’s office were tagged with “10K DEAD, and THERE IS BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS”. There were at least 200 people still wandering about.
According to those in attendance, the police had ordered a dispersal and arrested a few people. When the police presence arrived, the PSL co-opted the protest and policed the crowd into a circle. They commanded everyone there to come over and sit down, and “show the cops we’re peaceful”, meanwhile abandoning the several people being arrested near the stairs. Witnesses watched as their strange suggestion made it easier for the police to move in and arrest activists.
PSL was also the group to put out a public call for a picket at the Boeing facility, east of Portland. While this idea had been shared, and the event discussed in back channels, they were the first to organize the rally. After an hour, as protesters continued to show up with their hand-made signs in the morning hours, PSL took a hold of the megaphone. They told everyone to go ahead and pack up, that they had demonstrated their dissent and they could rest well.
Activists expressed their anger at their announcement. They explained over and over how a picket line works, and that the entire point is to shut down a job site, until the demands are met. Because Boeing built the bombs and drones used on neighborhoods in Gaza, they had a duty to shut down production, if at least for a day.
However, the PSL pulled their support and sent their supporters home, abandoning the activists at the facility. They got on their story and announced the action was over. All the while those on the ground waited and called for numbers. But this critical lack of a crowd due to the call from the cult, culminated in multiple car attacks.
As the day dragged on, those in attendance began to dwindle. In that vulnerability, vehicles and trucks tried to drive their way through the line. I tracked a local journalist’s page, as she was in attendance. It detailed one attack, followed by another. First it was mild, then a semi attempted a drive through. In multiple cases, activists protected each other and slashed a tire, or broke the windows of those attempting murder. All of this could have been avoided, however, with a larger group of people participating in a proper picket line. Protesters who participated noted the attacks began once the PSL compromised the group’s safety.
Such tactics were also seen in Tacoma. Protesters picketed the Port of Tacoma, as they expected a military ship to dock and load war supplies, then set sail for Israel. The local PSL chapter, alongside the Tacoma DSA, had co-opted the autonomous action. DSA members did coordinate car rides for those in attendance. But again, only an hour or two into the blockade, they called for people to go home in peace. A group remained while half the crowd left. Picketers and a group of native water protectors on traditional canoes were able to delay the ship’s departure. By the night’s end the boat was loaded further down the dock by armed military personnel, and the vessel of death set sail to Gaza, loaded with American weapons.
Since that day, the PSL has canceled their call for an action on Black Friday. The national flier was promoted by ShutItDown4Palestine, which helps organize cities across the country for demonstrations demanding decolonization. No doubt, it has been the public outcry at their dangerous decisions, alongside their fundraising for personal gain. In the future, avoid events organized by this group. While specific behaviors could be prescribed to sheer incompetence and ideological opposition, in the cases of PSL and FreePeoplePDX. It is overwhelmingly clear that PSL has proven itself to be controlled opposition in the past, and seems to be repeating their usual practices.
Again, the difference between ideological and controlled opposition must be stressed. My concern is that while certain actions could be considered a split over tactics and strategy, it is their tactics and strategy that are working on behalf of the state. If the current organizers are punishing dissent through violence, even in instances of a simple denigration of a police officer; are they not acting as an arm of said police? They forbid future actions that would falter from their vision of “no vandalism” and “no violence”. This only works to stifle a diversity of demonstrations and direct action, demanding a ceasefire.
This is the age-old argument that I remember watching occur between organizers. While I began the George Floyd Uprisings supporting Democratic Socialism, it took a week of police brutality and reading anarchist theory printed in simple zines, that I embraced anarchism. And while I do not engage in said tactics, I again, understand their value in revolution.
In the meanwhile, FreePeoplePDX would do well to study the value of these tactics. The Americans would have never ended our violence in Vietnam, without direct action. Students organized mass demonstrations, burned draft cards, campus buildings, and recruiting stations. To them this “violence” is nothing in the face of the slaughter that America enables every day.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) here in Portland has created their own actions that, while completely peaceful and nonviolent, are doing well to shine a light on the crisis and the call for a ceasefire. I participated in the action outside of the office of Representative Blumenauer. Full of failed logistics and last minute organizing, the action itself was not ideal and did little to garner attention. It was powerful no doubt, and an excellent precursor to what was to come. I watched the activists debrief about the demonstration. While the first action didn’t take, they determined that what was needed was more direct action that would draw further attention to their demands. In the next weeks we would see JVP emerge to organize for Palestinian liberation.
American Jews on the East Coast and even here in Portland, have garnered praise for their protest tactics. From NYC, to Philly, to Chicago, to PDX, we are watching the ways in which these acts of civil disobedience are beginning to shift the conversation, and more and more politicians and cities demand a ceasefire.
These, again, are not the final actions that will advocate for a Free Palestine. But they are a start. Seattle activists have continued to organize with a sitting member of city council, Swant, calling for City Hall to sign the ceasefire resolution. Portland protesters have specifically not proposed such a plan. Which is strange, considering the deep tie of Portland Police to the Israeli Defense Forces, and the weapons manufacturers that support the apartheid state, and thrive in our metropolitan area. It could be due to our centrist city council, and their unwavering support for Israel, but still there are scores of ways to pressure our society to call for a ceasefire in Palestine.
At the very least, the last month and a half of mundane marches are doing little if anything to directly challenge the politicians and military-industrial complex that are engaging in genocide in Gaza. Boeing was an excellent target for direct action, such as a picket line. However, this only works when a picket line is able to stay in place and shut down production. The tagging of the office of Senator Merkley was a small action committed in the midst of another rally for a free Palestine. And a week and a half later, Merkley responded and became the second sitting senator to call for a ceasefire.
Direct action gets the goods.
Resistance is justified, when people are occupied.