If global capitalism is to die, it will be a death of a million stings.
It was the final day of actions against the G8, and we were marching on a small, winding road through the hills of Hokkaido. At least two rows of police lined both sides of the march, their dark uniforms and long batons cutting strange forms against the misty landscape.
But I tried not to notice them, directing my gaze instead at the distant hills bleeding into the sky, the places where the clouds parted, allowing the sunlight to burst through. The air was thick, sweat and pollen stuck to my body.
I, along with many others, had come across the world to protest the G8. Now that we were here, it was difficult to decipher exactly what that body of power actually was. It was the posh hotel sitting in the distant hills, far away from the reach of any protesters. It was the subtle touch of the Japanese cop’s hand on my shoulder, letting me know that whatever strength I might think I have, he has more. It was the culture of fear at the protest camps, backed up by the very real threat of government repression, causing people to hide their faces from each other and shun all cameras. It was the constant bombardment by advertisements and products, the neon lights and flashing billboards in this, Japan, the Asian darling of neo-liberalism.
The thing about the G8 protests is that they come up against a staggeringly broad system of power. They are not directed at a single institution, country, or act, but rather, at the informal system of global decision-making predicated on the rule of brute power, cynical self-interest, and anti-democratic decision-making. We were not just protesting the fact that the world’s most rich, powerful nations get together and make decisions that affect the world, without inviting the world to take part in a meaningful way. We were also protesting the decisions that these governments make, in all capacities, alone and together, to wage unjust wars, spew carbon into the atmosphere, impose neo-liberal trade policies, spread new forms of global capitalism. It was a protest against an international framework, buttressed by incredible power, symbolized and manifested by the G8 meetings.
We moved through the thick heat, a colorful mass of people. I kept my eyes on the rolling earth, wondering if every horizon I was to see in Japan would be littered with riot police. Throughout the protests, government repression was always near. The fear of arrest – Japan’s staggering twenty-three days of detention and high rate of conviction – had caused us to internalize police power, regulating and limiting our own actions. This was the arm of the G8 – the force it relies on to stifle dissent and maintain power. The cops were the most obvious enemy – but of course, the systems of power propping up the G8 are much more diffuse, webbing through society, sometimes constituting society. In lieu of a single locus of power, we push against the police. They are the bodies that directly block us and obstruct our view.
Standing in front of the lake, we could barely make out the island in the distance where the meetings were being held. It was green and faint, the water perfectly still. We stood beating our drums and holding our signs: “People Power, No G8” and “Japan = Police State, Fuck 23 day detention.” Out of range of the meetings, we scrummed with the police.
At the anti-G8 forum leading up to the actions, I heard the word “revolution” used a few times. But I also heard other words take its place: cracks, dismantling, deconstruction. John Holloway, a movement intellectual, gave a talk where he argued that our generation of global justice activists is akin to bees swarming, and if global capitalism is to die, it will be a death of a million stings.
There seem to be many things at the heart of this shifting language: A loss of faith in the old left construction of revolution as a single, pivotal moment that wipes the slate clean, taking us back to time zero. A belief that there is no outside or other to power, but that power creates us as well, generating its own truths, planting itself deep inside those seeking to resist it. The notion that there are no single root causes or structures to attack, but rather a collection of historical singularities, diffuse yet interconnected, dispersed like a web. The idea that alternative forms of power must be built meticulously and carefully, rooted in horizontalism, refusing to play the game of frantic power grabbing.
Is this right? I do not know. The world appears in strange fragments. Different texts and historical narratives struggle with each other on paper. Meetings last long into the night. Government and police infiltrators spy on our gatherings, corrupt our movements, create fear and paranoia. Capitalists destroy our neighborhoods, forests, communities, lives. Endless webs of NGOs make incremental improvements, compromising so much, appropriating social movements. Beams of hope flash out, in urban centers, rural spaces, workplaces, acts of awesome courage and resistance.
I thought about the night before, how we stayed up late into the night arguing in a room that was too small, trying to navigate through multiple languages, different conceptions of direct action, international misunderstandings and offenses, to establish some kind of cohesive plan. And now, after a night of conflict, we acted together, linked arms against the police lines, created one cohesive mass in the Hokkaido hills.
Are we the cracks? The bees? If so, the cracks themselves are highly contested spaces. There is no obvious outside of the system, no clear breaking point. In radical spaces, in meetings that last long into the night, we argue over what the next day’s action will be, we struggle to establish horizontal power, we fight for the soul of our movement.
I tried to keep my eyes on the rolling beauty around me. Birds cawed overhead, the clouds moved slowly. The ocean was somewhere nearby, I could faintly smell its salt breath.
At times, it may feel that we are up against a totalizing force, everywhere at once, diffuse and multiple. But then, the specificity of place interrupts, brings a heartbreaking beauty. And we see ourselves moving within that, at a clear point in space, a distinct group of people, surprisingly unified, dashing our hopes to the misty fog, green hills. And there is a strange sort of rightness that emerges, as we struggle to keep our gaze extended beyond the riot cops, as we start to push up against something else, something more important. And the horror begins to chip away. We are trying.