Negotiating treacherous terrain: disciplinary power, security cultures, and affective ties in a local antiwar movement.

AuthorCurrans, Elizabeth

AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, THE CALLS OF U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS FOR greater security measures and retribution for the lives and resources lost during the attacks elicited a range of responses within the United States. Although many people were angry and fearful of additional attacks, others were frustrated with the retaliatory and often racist rhetoric calling for war and for greater domestic surveillance, and dismayed that the ongoing neoliberal reduction of public space had found a new justification. (1) Many from this latter constituency took to the streets in protest of the invasion of Afghanistan, the dwindling civil liberties at home, the proposed (and later realized) military offensive against Iraq, and the disaster capitalism accompanying these invasions. In the United States and worldwide, the demonstrations reached their peak immediately before and just after the United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003. Much of the energy of the U.S. antiwar movement dissipated after the 2004 presidential election, which reinstated the administration that led the country into an always contested and increasingly unpopular war.

This article considers the antiwar movement in Santa Barbara, California, initiated during the buildup to the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a case study for exploring the use and creation of public spaces by antiwar activists, the different visions of activism and social life within the movement, and the impact of relationships to institutional power on the interactions between individuals and dissenting groups. This analysis occurs at the edges of dominant studies of social movements, as it addresses public space and the geographical dimensions of social activism. (2) Emphasizing space has numerous merits, including the possibility to focus on the interactions among different groups of people during public demonstrations. Although we recognize that most, if not all, public demonstrations, including those discussed in this article, are part of broader social movements, we emphasize spatial and power dynamics rather than political opportunities, collective identities, or resource mobilization in order to address aspects of social movements that are often undertheorized in existing literature. (3)

In particular, we discuss the utilization, theorization, and politicization of space by diverse constituencies in Santa Barbara protests against the latest U.S.-Iraq war. Moving beyond the usual state-versus-dissenter binary, this article deconstructs the unitary categories of "citizen" and "dissenter," discussing the ways in which different groups make distinct claims and have diverse imaginaries concerning the use of space. At the same time that public protest has been incorporated into the liberal state and routinized through the permit process, it has also become less effective at accommodating more radical positions against the war and the economic and security crises brought on by corporate globalization (Mitchell and Staeheli, 2005). Additionally, the demographics and history of Santa Barbara, including the presence of a large research university, largely predetermined the level of cross-racial and cross-class political collaboration that took place. Therefore, we use Jesse Mumm's (2008) concept of "intimate segregation" to highlight the ways in which marginalized people (particularly people organizing via queer, racial and ethnic, gender, and feminist identities), through creative organizing strategies and reappropriation of public space, articulate and enact forms of dissident citizenship distinct from more mainstream, and often explicitly patriotic, forms of protest. Mumm emphasizes how people occupy space differently and come to understand their place. In his example of gentrification in a Chicago neighborhood, "white people begin to internalize [segregation] as they learn to police local spaces, social life, and neighborhood narratives in order to maximize their privilege" (Ibid.: 18). A similar process, which we call intramovement disciplining, occurred in the recent Santa Barbara antiwar movement. As we explain below, the people able to exercise disciplinary power were part of or allied with a veterans' organization articulating a "peace is patriotic" framework for dissent. Their predominantly white and male identity enabled them to work closely with law enforcement and serve as representatives of state power when official state representatives were absent.

Examining divergent organizing strategies reveals the importance of security cultures and affective ties within collectives. The term "security culture" refers to the methods an organization uses to limit who has access to information about the organization's members and activities (Robinson, 2008: 225-252). Although all groups, dissenting or otherwise, have ways of managing membership and access to data, security cultures are most often discussed in relation to groups whose activities are outside legal boundaries or whose ideology is contrary to dominant ideologies. Due to state surveillance and infiltration of dissident groups in the 1960s and 1970s, many organizations developed strategies for limiting membership and keeping information private.

The second concept, the notion of affective ties, denotes feelings of affinity within organizations, sometimes referred to as collective identity or solidarity. Just as each of these terms points to a slightly different type of bond between group members (relationship between self and group versus connections between people despite differences), the concept of affective ties points to the purposeful acknowledgement and cultivation of care between collective members. What Ann Cvetkovich (2003: 157) calls the "affective life of politics" emphasizes the intimate connection between the supposedly private experience of emotions and the public life of organizing.

The three groups we focus on--a veterans' organization (Veterans for Peace, or "Veterans"), a network of queer-identified graduate students (Queergrad), and a collective modeled on global justice organizing (ARISE)--cultivated activist cultures with different degrees of hierarchy in decision-making, distinct levels of openness to new members, and diverse approaches to the use of public space.


As graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), we took part in protests and other forms of organizing against the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq. We--a white woman, a black woman, and a white man--are all in our late thirties, cisgender, (4) able-bodied, and queer-identified. The three of us, along with colleagues from a variety of institutional locations, staged protests on our campus, participated in citywide demonstrations, and organized a series of town hall meetings following a call to evaluate the divisions within the movement published in a local paper. This was a time of great social and political engagement during our training as researchers and teachers, and an experience that has deeply influenced our approaches to scholarship, pedagogy, and activism.

We utilized a combination of ethnographic and autoethnographic methods. After several extensive discussions of our experiences, two of which we recorded and transcribed, we began interviewing other participants, some who still live in Santa Barbara and others (including former college students) who have since left the area. All of the people we spoke to remain activists, concentrating on ending the war with Iraq or addressing other social crises, including police brutality, local and global poverty, and the intertwined threads of racism, sexism, and homophobia. To date, we have conducted eleven individual interviews and one focus group involving four people. The people we interviewed are overwhelmingly female-bodied (eleven women, three cisgender men, and one transgender man), largely white (one African American, one Arab American, two Asian Americans, two Latino/as, and nine white people, one of whom identifies as Jewish and another as Australian emigre), and were from their late teens to their seventies during the time of active dissent we examine. Many are queer-identified. All are able-bodied. Some came to this movement as seasoned activists, while others took to the streets for the first time. In what follows, we quote from these interviews and our own conversations. All names used, including those linked to our comments, are pseudonyms.

Documenting and promoting radical, intersectional, anticapitalist, anti-imperialist history is a key framework shaping this project. We document a history of radicalism and radical political thought for which Santa Barbara and UCSB are critical sites. (5) This campus, which has the highest family income and the whitest student body of any University of California campus, paradoxically produces some of the most sustained political campaigns within this ten-campus public university system: from the North Hall takeover by black undergraduate students (1968) to the inaugural meeting of the Chicano student movement leading to the introduction of the "Plan de Santa Barbara" (1969), both of which sought the institution of ethnic studies at the university level; from the burning of the Bank of America in Isla Vista (an unincorporated area of college residents, Latino families, and retirees next to UCSB) in 1970 during the height of the movement against the Vietnam War to the civil disobedience directed at the 1969 offshore oil spill that helped spark the contemporary environmental studies movement; and from the unionization of thousands of graduate student state employees to the uninterrupted protests against the war on terror. Even in late 2011, UCSB leads other UC campuses and U.S. higher education institutions in creative responses to the economic recession.

As members of Queergrad (and, in one case, ARISE), we draw on the legacy of several generations of political participation and on the...

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