In April 2001, at the high point of the so-called “anti-globalization” phase of the worldwide anti-capitalist movement, anarchists from all around North America converged in Québec City to oppose a transcontinental summit intended to establish a “Free Trade Area of the Americas” (FTAA). The ensuing clashes arguably represent the culmination of that era’s powerful social movements. In the following narrative, a participant in the events in Québec City offers a blow-by-blow account of the epic street battles of April 20-21, including selections from the anarchist media coverage of that time. The result makes for exciting reading, to say the least, but it also an important educational document that has much to offer today’s anarchists.
From the protests against the summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle at the end of 1999, at which the anti-capitalist movement exploded onto the global stage, to the demonstrations against the FTAA in Québec City, anarchist organizing and tactics experienced an historic renaissance in North America. The black bloc in Seattle had consisted of scarcely more than a hundred participants; while its actions were inspiring and influential to many people, they were also extremely controversial. By April 2001, however, anarchists and other anti-authoritarians had secured a central place for confrontational strategies in these actions.
The mass mobilizations in London, Seattle, Québec City, and elsewhere around the world were not simply reactive. Anti-capitalists went on the offensive, rallying broad coalitions to take the fight right to the doorstep of global trade organizations, interrupting their meetings and undermining their support structures. To understand this in the context of today’s movement against police violence, imagine if, rather than protesting whenever the police murder someone, opponents of police brutality repeatedly shut down the national conferences of organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and the politicians who fund them, rendering it impossible for them to coordinate on a national scale and crystalizing a narrative of widespread public opposition.
As David Graeber recounts in The Shock of Victory, this approach proved to be extremely effective. The Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement was soundly defeated, despite an unprecedented police mobilization to defend the 2003 ministerial in Miami. While the reformist elements of the anti-globalization movement left a legacy that was eventually coopted by far-right nationalists like Donald Trump, anarchists proposed a transformative solution to the problems engendered by capitalism, a solution that retains its promise today.
The following account is adapted from a forthcoming memoir on PM Press, entitled Ready to Riot: A Chronicle of Anarchist Experiments in Militant Organization & Action, 1995-2010. For more like this, follow @batallonbakunin on Twitter.