Movement Ideology and Tactics, Part I: Decentralization In confronting both the NYPD and the MTA, FTP’s diverse array of decentralized direct action tactics played important logistical and symbolic roles in the movement. In the lead up to FTP3, the formation distributed physical and digital copies of the FTP3 Operations Manual, containing the formation’s principles of unity as well as the three aforementioned communiques. These materials not only grounded the movement in concrete analysis, but provided a framework with which individuals and affinity groups could work from autonomously. In doing so, the principles of unity not only sought to break free from scripts of hierarchical organizing, but demonstrated the rootedness of these models for organizing and thinking in a settler colonialist agenda. For the vast majority of us who live under institutional, systemic, and mainstream political power, such hierarchical thinking is pervasive within our workplaces, our schools, the nonprofit sector, and even within leftist political organizing. Such rigidity not only stifles the imagination, but seeks to purposefully disempower individuals from taking stake in their own liberation. In providing a “non sectarian and all inclusive” framework for participation while prioritizing the voices of Black, brown and indigieneous people, FTP created a movement in which individuals could feel empowered to take agency in their own liberation (see figures 10 and 11) (Decolonize This Place, 2020).
Figure 10 (left): A leaflet distributed before FTP3 detailing ways communities and affinity groups could take action in educating the public and engaging in direct action. Figure 11 (right): A flyer for a student speakout as part of FTP3. (Source: Decolonize this Place via Facebook).
Indeed, in providing a framework through which participants could act autonomously, many individuals and affinity groups throughout the city were empowered to cause smaller scale disruptions leading up to the larger protests themselves. As seen in figures 2-7, many used graffiti, stickering, wheatpasting, and flyering in strategic locations throughout the city, including on MTA property. Others engaged in acts of material solidarity with those who had been brutalized for fare evasion, and with anyone else struggling to afford a MetroCard swipe. Some of these acts included swiping as many commuters through the turnstiles as possible, zip tying emergency gates open, or individuals simply refusing to pay the fare altogether. In addition, some chose central transit hubs such as Downtown Brooklyn and the Oculus to display large banners, drawing attention to both the principles of the formation and to the upcoming actions themselves. These decentralized disruptions, both large and small, forcibly confronted commuters with the realities that many poor and working class commuters of color confront on a daily basis. Where a movement with a designated leader or centralized formation might not have been able to cover as much ground, the framework set forth by FTP empowered individuals and affinity groups to utilize their own resources and abilities, and perform these displays of solidarity on their own accord.
In addition to its ability to, literally, cover more ground, this decentralized framework challenged the notion that social movements should exist to be everlasting and monolithic. On the contrary, the use of the term “formation,” implied a sense of impermanence in and of itself. Saffore likened the concept of a formation to that of Transformers, explaining that our movements not only become stronger through converging with one another, but through approaching this work with a lack of attachment. She explained that when individuals become attached to a particular movement or coalition, it becomes easier for the oppressors to then predict a movement’s formula. As white supremacy itself has morphed and shifted through time, it should become the work of our movements to shift as well, to be unpredictable and impermanent. Simultaneously, we must acknowledge that with many institutions, be they police, city agencies, or museums, there is an expectation of their permanence. In other words, we are only able to imagine a world within the limitations of what we have been given by these institutions, with the expectation that they will last forever. In return, it becomes the work of our movements to do the opposite, and to match such stagnancy with fluidity, evolving in opposition to white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism (Saffore, Interview, 2021).