against the gulf war, against privileged campus activists – from 1991

i’m not 100 percent sure, but i believe this is just about the first time i used the pseudonym “rob los ricos.”

this is a letter to the editor of a magazine published at UT in the 90s, the polemicist. they had run an article denouncing the anarchists involved in the austin campaign for peace in the middle east, in the days leading up to the war in the persian gulf.

we had greatly offended them by refusing to submit to the leadership of the New Left-over campus marxists. we organized a direct action wherein we shut down traffic so hard in downtown austin, it backed up traffic on I-35 from waco to san antonio, and made national and international news. pretty strong showing, if you ask me.

but, it was NOT sanctioned by the leadership of the acpme, who instead focused their time and energy denouncing and attempting to discredit us. what this did in the short term was a stifling of dissent on campus, because NO ONE wanted to go through what we did – particularly the outing of working people who had attempted to use pseudonyms as a means of keeping their employers from knowing about their political activities. by people who very obviously had no concerns about such retaliation.

oh, there is so much more to be told about that time – maybe one day some of my student allies from those days will share their memories…

(the students involved went under the name youth against militarism, thus the derogatory label “yammies.”)

Yo Polemicist!

As two of the “confused Yammies” referred to in Kathy and Purnima’s biography of the ACPME, we feel a need to respond to some of what was written, both about the Campaign and Youth Against Militarism/Anti-Militarist Action (YAM/AMA).

The authors seem to believe that a secret power elite did not form in the Campaign until sometime in January. This is not a realistic portrayal of the events which led to the formalization of the “shadow government” by the Campaign’s self-defined leaders, hereafter referred to as the Oberfuhrers-O-Peace, or “Oopsies,” and their followers. The Oopsies made their presence known from the very beginning of the Campaign and had divided the group into friend-or-foe camps within the first month of the Campaign’s existence.

The article briefly mentioned the scantily attended press conference the Campaign held at the Austin American-Statesman, but does not mention the anti-war rally held earlier that month at the Federal Building. It was from the Oopsies’ handling of this event that a debate began in the Campaign about the decision-making process, and not at the Town Meeting, which was held almost two months later.

Rob missed the first planning meeting for the October 20th rally, however, at the second meeting learned that in the time between the first and second meetings, the time and location of the rally had been changed. The original plan was to hold the rally at a highly visible location, Camp Mabry, a military base right here in Austin, sitting right alongside a well-traveled highway.

Instead, the invisible hand of the Oopsies had moved the rally to a side road in the heart of downtown, at noon on a weekend, where the chance of reaching people – and letting them see that there were people actively opposed to this war-thing that Bush wanted – was very slender. The redirection of the group’s planning into the largely ineffective, hidden rally was so discreet and complete, one “confused” member of the Campaign later stated that the FBI could not have done a better job of sabotaging it. This was only a sample of what was to come.

After both the Fed Building rally and press conference were seen by the Campaign as ineffective, the Campaign began to examine its decision making process to rectify problem areas, so that future actions would be more successful. In fact, for the remainder of the year, much of the time in Campaign meetings was devoted to stifling debate regarding the establishment of new processes. Not that any of the discussions mattered anyway, as is evident by the Oopsies absolute control over the definition and establishment of the new campaign order.

In the “pre-deadline” days, as the US was still escalating troop movements to the Middle East and propaganda drives at home, YAM decided to organize direct action in opposition to the impending war, separate from the Campaign hierarchy and control. At a planning meeting for a December action, one Campaign member came and told us that she had been asked by some Oopsies to attend the meeting and report her “findings” back to them. This was not an official Campaign “outreach” to other arms of the “movement,” since a number of “Yammies” were actively involved in the Campaign. Rather those Oopsies had sent this woman to infiltrate the meeting, collecting information for solely their benefit.

After the war had started in earnest, when Bush ordered the bombing of Kuwait and Iraq, some Oopsies used the media to denounce YAM and other resisters’ actions as “hostile” and “discouraging” in the promotion of the Campaign as the “real” movement against the war.

The Oopsies’ repertoire of control tactics included the discrediting of groups autonomous of their and the Campaign’s “leadership” as undercover agents and informers in collusion with the government. These reckless allegations, having no evidentiary factual basis, served as a means of alienating many members of the Campaign from each other, the Campaign, and the movement itself. Ultimately, these infiltration rumours led to the establishment by the Oopsies of an exclusionary rule in the Campaign’s official policy guidelines whereby the 12 members of the Steering Committee had the absolute authority to kick people out of the Campaign.

This leads back to how the Oopsies officially structured the Campaign as a rigid, centrally-controlled organization. The Steering Committee had been given the task of submitting proposals (in the plural) for structural change that would accommodate the growing number of members in the decision making process.

Instead of submitting these proposals for discussion, the Oopsies entered the next meeting with a newly established centrally-controlled process, effective immediately, no discussion. Few people were pleased with this and the membership requested more proposals and scheduled another discussion, only to be dismissed yet again due the difficulties the Oopsies had in presenting more than one option to the membership, despite the fact that two other proposals had indeed been submitted.

The Oopsies proposed that their structure be “temporarily” adopted since the Campaign was suspending meetings for the upcoming winter student vacation anyway. Alas, the large scale debate over various processes never occurred. When the Campaign started up again amid the flurry of the beginning of the war, the Oopsies’ structure and process were already well established tradition: Oopsies “facilitate” all discussion and the elite, limited member steering committee had exclusive decision making power in the “facilitation” of meeting campaign goals.

Kathy and Purnima’s article attempts to separate this “facilitation” from the more negative connotations of “power” through the formal acknowledgement of the decision makers of the Campaign so that members would have greater understanding of exactly who is responsible for the decisions made. The major problem with this proposal is the very “accountability” that it attempts to address. while those few people in positions of power to direct the Campaign would be singled out as answerable to the general body, the general membership itself was completely disempowered of access to the decision-making process, thus elevating the Oopsies to positions of absolute authority.

Probably best illustrating this is a quote from the article itself: “(The Yammies and others) confused dialogue with “decision-making.” These members never saw the actual decision process that developed outside of the impossible and cumbersome meetings, and eventually superseded them.” In other words, any discussion arising outside of the officially authorized, or at that time “tacitly permitted,” oligarchy-o-process-n-position is useless and as such, repudiated as an avenue of affecting campaign strategy.

The self-imposed impotence expected of Campaign members in the unquestioning acceptance of Oopsie “leadership” is similar to the vegetative state of the populace necessary for acceptance of George Bush’s unilateral decision to engage in a war in the Middle East. Those people opposed to the status quo and its war, and determined enough to resist despite this lifelong conditioning of abnegation, only encountered the same warped “you ignorant masses must be led by we educated and competent leaders” ideology of oppression in the “peace and justice” community. We, the community of resistance, don’t need to replace the old shit with new shit, even if it’s mollified by “oops. We had too much unrestricted control.”

The quest for control, of either the world or the resistance movement, is always too restrictive.

Rob Los Ricos
Sylvia Guisto

Bose and Mitchell respond: We just wish to note that this letter was actually written by J**** S***** and Robert Thaxton. Despite years of imprisonment as a Slavic revolutionary, when Bakunin lashed Marx for authoritarianism, he had the courage to do so under his own name. The use of a pseudonym for personal security, in our context, reflects no more than an inflated sense of self-importance.

PS – i just want to point out that i was not a student at this time, and was cautioned by my employers to keep out of the media, whereas the other participants in this saga were either grad students or faculty. talk about hiding behind privilege! btw – i thought of the people named above (kathy and purnima) as allies, even on the friendly side, before their attacks against anarchists in the anti-war movement. which is why we only used their first names, to remind them that we are friendlies.

also, bakunin was a russian aristocrat, whereas i’m just this guy, you know?

i slightly edited the above letter, mostly just adding punctuation. if you insist on seeing the original, here it is:

LETTERS

May 1991; pages 16-17, 19; Volume 2, No. 6
Polemicist

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