Comments> Dialog & Controversy over Chris Hedges’ article “The Cancer in Occupy”

Comments> Dialog & Controversy over Chris Hedges’ article “The Cancer in Occupy”

I have been asked to delete the post on WAMMToday by Chris Hedges called “The Cancer in Occupy.”  [I think by whom is not relevant to this dialog, and the different viewpoints are reflected below.] Before I posted it, it did cross my mind that maybe I should not.  Chris Hedges is a excellent and powerful writer, so anything is writes is going to be well-written and will evoke response, whether you agree with him or not.

One controversy as far as I can determine is about giving Occupy a bad name and offending members of the Occupy movement, especially in the Twin Cities, which I certainly did not intend to do, as I am connected to OccupyMinneapolis in a number of ways.

The other controversy that all of these comments address is about the article itself.  

I believe in the power of and educational value of open dialog and encourage people to post comments on the WAMMToday Facebookpage and on the WAMMToday blog (www.riseuptimes.wordpress.com), where I have posted a comment.  The Rogue Media Facebook page also has several very interesting comments worth reading (not just mine, which are also there).

Comments may also be posted on this post on WAMMToday by clicking the Comments link in the upper right-hand corner.

I openly and strongly admit my bias for nonviolence, for peaceful protest, for nonviolent direct action, for creative nonviolent protest, and perhaps ultimately that is why I posted the article.  As I say at the end of my comments, included here,  “Hedges is correct in pointing out that the Black Bloc anarchists, who are not nonviolent, can give the rest of the Occupy movement a bad reputation and name.”

You know the old saying of the mainstream corporate media, “if it bleeds, it leads.”  So naturally they report on and run videos of the Black Bloc.  It was certainly true in Seattle, as it is true today, especially when after the initial Oakland raids thousands and thousands turned out for a peaceful demonstration in Oakland and the media jumped on the property damage done by Black Bloc-ers, while all over the city there were flash-dancers and groups of people doing nonviolent protest. A good target for anger is the corporate mainstream media, and the work to do is on media reform, which is part of the work I do.

Of course, I understand that Occupy creates its own media.  As I worked with the Counter-Propaganda Coalition for a number of years, and one of our principles was Create Your Own Media, I love what the Occupiers are doing, both locally and nationally, with creating their own media.

I invite people to comment, to dialog on the article (and other WAMMToday articles). I also remind you of the disclaimer at the bottom of the WAMMToday blog:  “The contents of this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WAMM and/or the WAMM Media Committee.”   So while I posted the article and take responsibility, the organization Women Against Military Madness and other members of the WAMM Media Committee are not responsible for this posting, nor does it particularly reflect their opinions.

My major guideline for posting is the WAMM Mission Statement:

WAMM’S MISSION

Women Against Military Madness is a nonviolent, feminist organization that works in solidarity with others to create a system of social equality, self-determination and justice through education, action and the empowerment of women. WAMM’s purpose is to dismantle systems of militarism, economic exploitation and global oppression.

WAMM is hundreds of women and men empowered to make social change through volunteer activism!

Sue Ann Martinson, Editor, WAMMToday

To start, here are the comments I personally posted on the WAMMToday blog, on theWAMMToday and Rogue Media Facebook pages, and in the comments section on the original article on Truthdig.com.

♥Anarchy (from Greek: ἀναρχίᾱ anarchíā), has more than one definition. In the United States, the term “anarchy” typically is meant to refer to a society without a publicly enforced government or violently enforced political authority.[1][2] When used in this sense, anarchy may[3] or may not[4] be intended to imply political disorder or lawlessness within a society.

Outside of the US, and by most individuals that self-identify as anarchists, it implies a system of governance, mostly theoretical at a nation state level although there are a few successful historical examples,[5] that goes to lengths to avoid the use of coercion, violence, force and authority, while still producing a productive and desirable society.[6]

[The Occupiers I have met reflect in their work and organizing the words I have highlighted/emphasized in the above definition from Wikipedia.]

Both definitions above are from Wikipedia and would define the current state of anarchy, not the historical state, which was popularly perceived only as being violent. Most interestingly, the Occupy movement is an anarchic movement that matches both definitions above, with much emphasis on the statement in the second definition that describes those who “self-identify as anarchists.”

I have hesitated to name the Occupy movement and structure as anarchic, as I suppose have others, because of the stigma of violence and chaos, which in a way Hedges (perhaps unwittingly) reinforces by using the term “black bloc anarchists” more than once.

The Occupy movement is international, and they communicate with each other easily in this day and age so that national borders become irrelevant and separate definitions for inside and outside theUSbecome somewhat false. Occupy is an international nonviolent anarchic movement. Hedges is correct in pointing out that the Black Bloc anarchists, who are not nonviolent, can give the rest of the Occupy movement a bad reputation and name.

Further Comments posted on Rogue Media:

Of course, I agree [with others] about being in it for the long haul. Well, it’s been about 30 years now as an activist. OccupyMN and Minneapolis have stepped out in many directions. It’s great. That is a great part of the beauty of Occupy: people can create their own Occupys in the place/space they want to be activists in. That IS a form of structure, which people just don’t seem to see as such, mainly because it is not hierarchical. But hierarchy is only one form of structure. Unfortunately it is the dominant structure in our society. And note above in the second definition of anarchy: “a form of governance, that goes to lengths to avoid the use of coercion, violence, force and authority, while still producing a productive and desirable society,” that is, of finding a new way of doing things, of living together as a society. So there is structure and a purpose, one that many outside of the movement miss or misunderstand.

+++++++++++

The following are comments in reply to my statement above.  Most were emailed as part of several streams about the Hedges article and posting it on WAMMToday; a few were posted on the WAMMToday blog.  For clarity I have put heart ♥ at the beginning of each person’s comments.

Some notes of clarification:  Some of these comments refer to a “Walker” gathering.  On Wednesday nights, all Occupiers in the Twin Cites are invited to gather, share food, make announcements about what they are working on, and have a set-aside hour for committee meetings, ending the evening with a teach-in on a relevant topic.

You will also find several references to the St. Paul Principles, developed by a coalition formed for planning protest around the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) in St. Paul.  You can find them here.

SueAnn

Here are the comments, essentially in the order I received them.  Please click on the link below to read these thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

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♥This is an important dialog. Sue Ann is correct in posting it. I believe anyone in a leadership role in the movement has a responsibility to everyone in their group to be totally upfront about strategy and tactics. It seems to me what the Black Bloc is doing is beyond what has been done but is not duplicitous. They are very clear about their strategy and tactics. Others are free to join them or not. Occupados elsewhere may use different methods. At a certain point it may become necessary to defend the revolution. I support Occupy Oakland, but, even more importantly, I support the dialog.

Ed Felien

♥ A link to an article by Michael Abert of Z from Polly Kellogg:

Violence Begets Defeat or Too Much Pacifism?

By Michael Albert  Friday, February 10, 2012

“But remember that if the struggle were to resort to violence, it will lose vision, beauty and imagination. Most dangerous of all, it will marginalize and eventually victimize women. And a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it, and within it is no struggle at all.”

Arundhati Roy

Chris Hedges has written a very aggressive attack on what is called the black bloc element of the current occupy movements. There have been a number of replies and reactions. The issues are actually not new, but have a long lineage. How do we evaluate matters of violence and non violence? What even characterizes obstruction, property damage, or aggressive or violent options, and how might folks reasonably argue their preferences?

Pacifism often comes from a religious or a philosophical stance and says violence, or even property damage, is a bad personal choice – no exceptions. Many pacifists argue publicly on behalf of political nonviolence using evidence, values, and experience. They usually respect and interact positively with those holding different opinions. In my experience, perhaps the best exemple of this type of stance was byDavidDellinger, someone whose work is worth revisiting today. There are some other pacifists, however, who don’t primarily use evidence, logic, and experience to argue for nonviolence, but instead assert that to reject nonviolence is immoral. Their morality/religion trumps political debate.

When adherents of a political view assert that all other actors must agree or be irrelevant, it is often called sectarianism. Agree with me or you are a political infidel. In philosophy or religion, similar rigidity is often called fundamentalism. Agree with me or you are a moral infidel or mental midget – or worse, an ally of one type of devil or another.

Here’s the hard part: When a pacifist says that everyone must be a pacifist because all other options are immoral, it is fundamentalism. Lifestyle, philosophical, or religious pacifists have every right to argue that the movement should always be nonviolent. But if they do it by proclaiming they have greater morality and dismissing those who have different views as morons or badly motivated, they can’t expect to be taken seriously. The same also goes for those who assert the limits of nonviolence and the merits of militancy from atop a high moral horse. Those who say disruption and violence are essential to building movements and winning change, and add that anyone who thinks otherwise is a tool of the state, are also sectarian.

To read the rest of this post, click here.  Albert discusses tactics and gives hypothetical examples of protest situations and strategies.

♥ Thanks for this Sue Ann. I guess I don’t really understand the problem here. You know a lot more than I do about this, so set me straight. I still can’t see why local Occupiers might want you to remove the Hedges article- for the reasons you stated. What? No free speech? No facing national issues affecting Occupy?  Hedges himself is a self described “anarchist”, (a nonviolent anarchist who supports the use of civil disobedience when deemed necessary). As I understand it, he believes that Black Bloc anarchists are a separate form of anarchist, who are attempting to co-opt various Occupy movements in some cities, (by inciting police brutality, and violent responses to it), thus creating an expanded stage for their own aggressive form of protest. Am I wrong?

Though such groups are not yet functioning within the context of the various Minnesota Occupy entities that I know of, they are active in bigger cities, where they are indeed managing to sour the public on the entire Occupy movement. National media has made that clear. That relates to the presence of Occupy in the Twin Cities- whether we want to admit that or not.

Rather than giving Occupy a bad name by “association”, it seems to me that Hedges presents a defense of Occupy’s dedication to non violent tactics, differentiating such tactics from Black Bloc’s, and indicating that he believes that if the Black Bloc persists, it could be very detrimental to the progress of Occupy. I would agree with him. I think his comments were important. He has been an active and powerful member of Occupy from day one, with the utmost of credibility. Your choice to post his comments was completely valid in my mind. At the same time, is there a piece of the question that I am missing in favor of those who asked you to remove it?   Just learning here.

Thanks, Mary Lynn

♥Dear Sue Ann-  I think you were right in posting the Hedges article.  Of course, I agreed with what he said. I’m grateful for your time and diligence –

Polly Mann

♥Sue Ann, I think it’s definitely worth a read. The blog makes some good points in my opinion–and if nothing else gets one thinking.

Peace, Vanessa

♥Whoever asked you to delete Chris Hedges article does not seem to understand the openness that is essential to the Occupy movement. I read the article, and think his points are worth considering. Certainly people wearing masks, unless for a drama, are also acting secretively and denying the Occupy message. Hedges’ point that many of these these people, law enforcement personnel or otherwise, could also be seeking to disrupt the movement by inciting violence is a good one. Nonviolence is an essential theme of Occupy, takes the moral force away from those who use physical force to break up Occupy meetings, and appeals effectively to the sympathy of the general public.

Best regards, David Harris

♥The Hedges article and recent interview are getting torn to shreds all over the internet. Some of the criticisms are warranted, but overall, I think a lot of Occupy folks are over-reacting. A few months ago, Hedges was one of the darlings of the movement. People were spreading his speeches at Occupy Boston and also, I believe, at OWS all over the place. And now, he’s being branded a traitor, an enemy, etc. Such fickle egos and short attention spans. If it’s going to be worth anything, Occupy must learn to take in criticisms and questioning, digest it, sift out the truth from the misinformation, and then move on with a more enriched voice.

Furthermore, we need to learn how to speak about the systemic, broad-based nature of our movement in ways that will help others “get it” better. Instead of shouting at people that they don’t understand, we need build the bridges for those who are interested, but don’t know what’s actually happening. The Us vs. Them mindset continues to eat away at our collective power. The possibilities are endless if more of us can move beyond that approach, but as it is now, that mindset is even keeping people apart within the movement. Hating Hedges and others like him is not only foolish, but also painfully sad. What good is the 99% rhetoric, when so many of those in that 99% are already being considered enemies and traitors?

Nathan Thompson

♥This has to be the worst piece of drivel ever produced by Hedges or any other writer purporting to be a progressive. This is exactly the kind of divisiveness the St. Paul Principles was successful in preventing during the RNC protests.

Let’s be clear:

1) Violence is being perpetrated by cops and other agents of the state, not the movement. There’s a huge difference between property damage (which has largely been minor to non-existent) and indiscriminately pepper-spraying a crowd of people, shooting a guy in the head with a concussion grenade, and bashing protesters with billy clubs–all of which has happened by the hired henchmen of the state.

2) While I do not identify as an anarchist and should probably not speak for them, the thrust of anarchism is anti-authoritarianism and resistance to the coercive relationships that dominate this society, which is at the core of the Occupy movement.

3) The 1% and their media have no issues with violence, as evidenced by their sycophantic celebrations of every war and military action this country has ever engaged in. What they are really frightened about is authentic resistance to their domination. It’s the reason they viciously condemned, attacked and killed the Black Panthers, AIM and every other liberation movement ever launched in this country. And they readied the public for these attacks by vilifying these movements in the media as “violent.” Anyone here see any parallels?

It is beyond me why the WAMM website and email newsletter  would validate this backward and divisive attack on a core section of the Occupy movement. [Editor’s Note:  neither the WAMM website or newsletter were involved in posting/printing the Hedges article, only WAMMToday]. There have always been people claiming to be part of the movement who are willing to throw others under the bus to fulfill some twisted agenda. I’m just saddened and appalled that WAMM would provide space and validation for it.

Michelle Gross

♥I’d encourage anyone who’s followed the discussions about Jan. 28 in Oakland or read Hedges’ piece to watch this video with footage from the protests there on Jan. 28 and interviews with participants: http://vimeo.com/36256273

After watching this, it’s hard to believe Hedges’ piece has anything to do with the reality of what’s happening in Oakland or anywhere else. I agree with Michelle– it’s a purposely divisive piece that does exactly what the St. Paul Principles were designed to avoid.

Brad

♥thanks to Michelle and Brad for your responses.  at the risk of sounding
divisive, i will simply say that our choices in life are becoming more and
more stark: we either struggle against the system that rules us or we cave
into power (and slavery and ultimate destruction of life).

struggle against power can take many forms.  there is no such thing as
pure non-violence because the system in which we are living is inherently
violent (why pay rent?  why pay mortgage?  how has the food that you
consume been brought to you?  how have your machines that you rely upon
been made?).

for those that would internally police our struggle: you risk being called
a traitor.  solidarity has always been on the side of the people.  the St.
Paul principles has been a step toward solidarity and liberation of the
oppressed.

in solidarity w/people and the planet, eric

♥Asked by whom? I thought it was a troubling and insightful article, which I happen to agree with. You should not take it down at all. Do people think that if we don’t talk about something it will magically go away? If there is a group who want to smash stuff and scream at the cops to provoke them, they do not get to use the rest of us as a shield to hide themselves. They are young and can run faster than me, and leave the mess they create and let us take the beatings for them? Plus the negative media we will get. I thought the St Paul Principles that were agreed upon in 08 for the Republican convention were excellent: that each group would create its own space and actions and not interfere with others.

ScottCramer

♥I haven’t had  a chance to read it, but I vote to leave it up. Freedom of speech and all that. If someone’s skin is too thin, tough shit.

BillSorem

♥I don’t get it—what’s the problem with Hedges’ article?

Occupy here is not Oakland. Oakland is rough. Syria is rougher.

Let’s put it in terms of cops, rather than occupiers. Cops are almost never blamed for their all too frequent violent, pathological, vicious, angry actions. “Alleged” cop violence is sometimes mentioned, usually never followed in the news.

Nonviolent demonstrators are universally blamed for disrupting the status quo, for pointing out fascism in what is called (and never has been) our “democracy.”

Personally nonviolence is my tactic du jour because I don’t have violence training and because our government routinely breaks the law and has used its fearful powers routinely. Drones at home, my friends, electronic monitoring, spies in the movement, and a Just Us system that humiliates and refuses to adhere to the federal Constitution when local trespass laws, for example, make convenient guilty findings. Targeting Julian Assange is a pure and concentrated example of punishing someone for embarrassing the government. These are acts of a government on the defensive, a government unable to exist within its own laws—a government that is failing. How sad.

Susu Jeffrey

♥I am glad Chris Hedges wrote what he did; perhaps some have a problem with the truth.

SteveMcKeown

♥Sue Ann, I think you are right not to delete the post, although it appears it has been removed from WAMM’s blog. [I have not removed it–Sue Ann]. I believe it is important not to censor or suppress sincere debate about differences within the movement.

And an addition:  You can post my comment, as long as you add that it is not intended to indicate agreement  with Hedges’ article.  It is an endorsement of open discussion.

I do think he completely over-generalizes and substantially mischaracterizes and oversimplifies anarchist perspectives.  Further, the intensity of the rancor is misdirected, as it should be primarily focused on the capitalist war-making ruling class who causes exponentially greater harm than the folks in black clothing ever could.  At the same time, he is right that the tactics in question are very counterproductive.

Jordan S. Kushner

♥To Be Fair Article

http://www.libcom.org/library/be-fair-he-journalist-short-response-chris-hedges-black-bloc

Patty

♥There was quite a bit of discussion last night by the Occupiers at the Wednesday evening gathering at Walker. One man had copied the article and handed out a copy to many before the meeting even started.

The gist was 1) violence against property is not the same as violence against people (which the police in Oakland have done repeatedly) 2) Occupiers should never take their eyes off the fact that the real violence is what this country is doing to people all over the world – our message is to focus on that 3) no one understood why Chris Hedges is now focusing on trying to divide Occupiers into two camps – those who want strictly non-violence and those who very occasionally destroy some property.

People also spoke up against non-violence of any kind, and Occupy Mpls still stands for that; police provacateurs; that fact that Black Bloc is a strategy and “Black Bloc anarchists” do not exist as a group.

Hard to summarize all, but the most stirring speeches were for solidarity with Oakland Occupiers, and focusing on the current economic system that is violent of a wholly overwhelming level beyond whatever happened in Oakland.

Kathy

♥Thanks, Kathy, for the summary. This discussion is important to have in all our institutions and activist groups. It was great to have Gene Sharp’s presentation forwarded from WAMM Today, too! Peace Studies Departments nationwide use his voluminous materials, including Jack Nelson Pallmeyer’s Active Nonviolence course (maybe others) at St. Thomas. Sharp makes the point (no pun intended) that ours is an armed struggle: the arms are not guns, but considered and implemented cooperative strategies.

Carol

♥I would absolutely agree with that assessment, Carol, about the crucial and significant difference between property damage and physical harm to human beings!  (Hedges is brilliant but no one is correct all the time and this could be a small blind spot of his, also due to the fact that he’s been overly effusive and not critical thinking enough in his prior support and assessments of strength of “Occupy Wall Street” and now seeks ways to blame and explain their being cleared away.)

In fact, the crucial distinction between property damage and harm to human beings is embodied in (of all places) the US Patriot Act’s definition of “domestic terrorism” and something I constantly argued internally with FBI superiors before I retired, that they were essentially ignoring their own federal Patriot Act requirement of having to show “acts dangerous to human life” to constitute terrorism.  (See paragraphs under Definitions of Terrorism and the Right to Dissent incorporated into my very first paper (attached) written in 2003 and which I was able to get cleared by the FBI’s pre-publication review).

The “Minnesota Patriot Act” by contrast improperly includes property damage, equating as little as $1000 worth of property damage as an act of “terrorism”.  This was the most cogent argument in connection with the “RNC 8” prosecution and one which Ramsey Co. Prosecutor Susan Gaertner was forced to acknowledge when she dismissed terrorism charges against the “RNC-8”.  The “Minnesota Patriot Act” she had wrongly charged is completely wrong-headed and should be repealed (as even MN prosecutors agree).

civil liberties-Eisenhower edit.doc

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ColeenRowley

♥Hi all, I’d like to join again this thread to correct the impression that I said anything about the difference between property damage and physical harm to people. (see Carol’s comments above Coleen’s.)

Carol

♥i want to echo the good points that michelle, brad and eric made, and also to throw out this article that’s a pretty nice, succinct response to hedges’ (divisive, ill-informed) article:
http://libcom.org/library/be-fair-he-journalist-short-response-chris-hedges-black-bloc

luce

♥A Response toChrisHedge’s “Black Block” Article   ByNathanThompson

A few months ago, Chris Hedges was one of the darlings of the movement. People were spreading his speeches at Occupy Boston and also, I believe, at OWS all over the place. And now, in the wake of his article “The Cancer in Occupy,” he’s being branded a traitor, an enemy, and numerous other unsavory things. Never mind that he’s been one of the few consistent public supporters amongst the popular political writer class, for many, this article places him on the wrong side of the fence.

While it’s possible that Hedges is deliberately adding to attempts to divide and weaken the Occupy movement, I also believe that fickle egos and short attention spans are responsible for some of the angry, dismissive responses. If it’s going to be worth anything, Occupy must learn to take in criticisms and questioning, digest it, sift out the truth from the misinformation, and then move on with a more enriched voice. Furthermore, we need to learn how to speak about the systemic, broad-based nature of our movement in ways that will help others “get it” better. Instead of shouting at people that they don’t understand, we need build the bridges for those who are interested, but don’t know what’s actually happening. The Us vs. Them mindset continues to eat away at our collective power. The possibilities are endless if more of us can move beyond that approach, but as it is now, that mindset is even keeping people apart within the movement. Hating Hedges and others like him is not only foolish, but also painfully sad. What good is the 99% rhetoric, when so many of those in that 99% are already being considered enemies and traitors?

I’d like to add that digesting this kind of stuff takes time. This isn’t the soundbyte dismissal of a Newt Gingrich. It’s easy enough to respond to that kind of thing. Or ignore it. Which is what I tend to do these days.

I particularly believe that this paragraph from Hedges is vital for members of Occupy to consider.

“The Black Bloc movement is infected with a deeply disturbing hypermasculinity. This hypermasculinity, I expect, is its primary appeal. It taps into the lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only things but human beings. It offers the godlike power that comes with mob violence. Marching as a uniformed mass, all dressed in black to become part of an anonymous bloc, faces covered, temporarily overcomes alienation, feelings of inadequacy, powerlessness and loneliness. It imparts to those in the mob a sense of comradeship. It permits an inchoate rage to be unleashed on any target. Pity, compassion and tenderness are banished for the intoxication of power.”

There is a distinct lack of appreciation for a diversity of expression in our Occupy Minneapolis GA’s, and I have read similar comments about GA’s in other parts of the country. And I believe that lack of diversity spills out into how actions are put together, how different approaches are treated, and how we generally act around each other. Too often, I feel like I’m viewed in an instrumental way. If I am actively participating in some action, people offer respect. But if I’m not, or if what I’m involved in – such as the Whealthy Human Village project – isn’t looking “active,” then I’m just another face in the crowd, not really worthy of consideration.

In my view, without deeper relationships and an appreciation for each other as humans first and foremost, we’re doomed to the same fragmentation that has plagued many social movements of the past. We are each much more than our rational ideas and ability to do direction action. It concerns me greatly the numerous conversations I have had with women and a few men who feel unappreciated, left out, or unsafe when it comes to making decisions and considering ways forward. To me, Hedges’ mistake is placing too much blame on the “black bloc,” when the reality is that at least some of that “hypermasculinity” is all over the movement.

Nathan Thompson

♥From Ed Felien:  Here is a piece by David Graeber that I think best summarizes the opposition to Hedges’ piece:

In response to “The Cancer in Occupy,” by Chris Hedges.

I am writing this on the premise that you are a well-meaning person who wishes Occupy Wall Street to succeed. I am also writing as someone who was deeply involved in the early stages of planning Occupy in New York.

I am also an anarchist who has participated in many Black Blocs. While I have never personally engaged in acts of property destruction, I have on more than one occasion taken part in Blocs where property damage has occurred. (I have taken part in even more Blocs that did not engage in such tactics. It is a common fallacy that this is what Black Blocs are all about. It isn’t.)

I was hardly the only Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. In fact, anarchists like myself were the real core of the group that came up with the idea of occupying Zuccotti Park, the “99%” slogan, the General Assembly process, and, in fact, who collectively decided that we would adopt a strategy of Gandhian non-violence and eschew acts of property damage. Many of us had taken part in Black Blocs. We just didn’t feel that was an appropriate tactic for the situation we were in.

This is why I feel compelled to respond to your statement “The Cancer in Occupy.” This statement is not only factually inaccurate, it is quite literally dangerous. This is the sort of misinformation that really can get people killed. In fact, it is far more likely to do so, in my estimation, than anything done by any black-clad teenager throwing rocks.

Let me just lay out a few initial facts:

1. Black Bloc is a tactic, not a group. It is a tactic where activists don masks and black clothing (originally leather jackets in Germany, later, hoodies in America), as a gesture of anonymity, solidarity, and to indicate to others that they are prepared, if the situation calls for it, for militant action. The very nature of the tactic belies the accusation that they are trying to hijack a movement and endanger others. One of the ideas of having a Black Bloc is that everyone who comes to a protest should know where the people likely to engage in militant action are, and thus easily be able to avoid it if that’s what they wish to do.

2. Black Blocs do not represent any specific ideological, or for that matter anti-ideological position. Black Blocs have tended in the past to be made up primarily of anarchists but most contain participants whose politics vary from Maoism to Social Democracy. They are not united by ideology, or lack of ideology, but merely a common feeling that creating a bloc of people with explicitly revolutionary politics and ready to confront the forces of the order through more militant tactics if required, is, on the particular occasion when they assemble, a useful thing to do. It follows one can no more speak of “Black Bloc Anarchists,” as a group with an identifiable ideology, than one can speak of “Sign-Carrying Anarchists” or “Mic-Checking Anarchists.”

3. Even if you must select a tiny, ultra-radical minority within the Black Bloc and pretend their views are representative of anyone who ever put on a hoodie, you could at least be up-to-date about it. It was back in 1999 that people used to pretend “the Black Bloc” was made up of nihilistic primitivist followers of John Zerzan opposed to all forms of organization. Nowadays, the preferred approach is to pretend “the Black Bloc” is made up of nihilistic insurrectionary followers of The Invisible Committee, opposed to all forms of organization. Both are absurd slurs. Yours is also 12 years out of date.

4. Your comment about Black Bloc’ers hating the Zapatistas is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. Sure, if you dig around, you can find someone saying almost anything. But I’m guessing that, despite the ideological diversity, if you took a poll of participants in the average Black Bloc and asked what political movement in the world inspired them the most, the EZLN would get about 80% of the vote. In fact I’d be willing to wager that at least a third of participants in the average Black Bloc are wearing or carrying at least one item of Zapatista paraphernalia. (Have you ever actually talked to someone who has taken part in a Black Bloc? Or just to people who dislike them?)

5. “Diversity of tactics” is not a “Black Bloc” idea. The original GA in Tompkins Square Park that planned the original occupation, if I remember, adopted the principle of diversity of tactics (at least it was discussed in a very approving fashion), at the same time as we all also concurred that a Gandhian approach would be the best way to go. This is not a contradiction: “diversity of tactics” means leaving such matters up to individual conscience, rather than imposing a code on anyone. Partly, this is because imposing such a code invariably backfires. In practice, it means some groups break off in indignation and do even more militant things than they would have otherwise, without coordinating with anyone else—as happened, for instance, inSeattle. The results are usually disastrous. After the fiasco ofSeattle, of watching some activists actively turning others over to the police—we quickly decided we needed to ensure this never happened again. What we found that if we declared “we shall all be in solidarity with one another. We will not turn in fellow protesters to the police. We will treat you as brothers and sisters. But we expect you to do the same to us”—then, those who might be disposed to more militant tactics will act in solidarity as well, either by not engaging in militant actions at all for fear they will endanger others (as in many later Global Justice Actions, where Black Blocs merely helped protect the lockdowns, or in Zuccotti Park, where mostly people didn’t bloc up at all) or doing so in ways that run the least risk of endangering fellow activists.

Click to Read the Rest of the Response from David Graeber

♥I agree with Hedges’ article.  I think people who are doing property damage are giving the police an excuse to use escalated force and the police are certainly looking for excuses to use repressive tactics and equipment.  The most powerful image coming out of Occupy was the group of people sitting peacefully on the sidewalk being pepper sprayed.

We need millions of people to be involved in Occupy and images of people destroying property with police responding with pepper spray and batons is not going to bring out more people.

If some people want to use different tactics and occasionally destroy property, that is their decision and they can do it away from Occupy.  I think Occupy should be clearly a peaceful protest.

Terry

♥A full hour of last night’s meeting at the Walker was an impassioned conversation about Hedges’ article. I actually think the whole blow up could be helpful, because it puts the subject of “diversity of tactics” squarely on the table.

There are lots of sides to it as you well know. I learned a lot, but I still believe that it is important to publicly post and engage such topics. A couple of Occupiers who were present at Oakland, (and disagreed with Hedges portrayal of those events), described the demonstration as an incident similar to the RNC blow up… where cops behaved brutally, (some say premeditatedly) then came down hard at the response. (The same analysis Hedges employs about  “Black Bloc” tactics!).

They say by the way, that “Black Bloc” is not a group, but a tactic, and that Hedges got sucked into mainstream thought by personalizing it. They mentioned police infiltrators as among the instigators, (as happened here at the RNC), and fault the press for typically dramatizing the incident, resulting in the divide and conquer scenario. I’m certainly open to that kind of analysis, but I’m still just listening and learning.

Interesting that one woman, ( who had not read the article)  admonished the group to remember that Hedges is making money off of books he writes, so he should be suspect. I do not buy that, knowing what I do about the man.( I don’t think most others did either.) Hedges has been imbedded in every major military conflict of our time, and has seen violence in all of its horrible forms. He knows the danger incremental violence. (A couple of people at the meeting seemed to agree with him).

I have met Hedges, heard him talk, followed his work closely. He comes off as a gentle and kind man, but a brokenhearted one. He has waited a long time for this movement to materialize, and I’m sure he is scared to death that violent behavior will derail it. He has given voice to the principles of Occupy as well as anyone out there (which some conceded last night). He may have stepped over the line this time, but I do not see him as “co-opted” as some suggest. I tend to trust his gut a lot of the time.

A couple of people hesitantly approached the topic of needing to broaden this movement to the mainstream. I would suggest that given the societal level of understanding about these issues, any sign of violence, even violence against property as opposed to persons, could turn people away. Most citizens do not see the disproportionality between corporate/military/police violence, and some broken windows or burned flags. They need to learn  gradually- through lots of discussion, which now, finally, is happening…everywhere, not just at Occupy.

The Walker group is way ahead of the curve in their understanding of a lot of these issues. Some of them, like yourself, have given most of their lives to antiwar and social justice causes. It would be helpful for them I think, to focus on the diversity of people attracted to this movement, as well as the diversity of tactics question. The tent must be as big as possible for Occupy to succeed. Not saying the message should be watered down. I have learned through 20 years in the gay rights movement that the message must remain clear, but people need to be “brought along” in one way or another. Hedges was trying to further the conversation. Whether his attempt backfired remains to be seen as far as I’m concerned.

MaryLynn

♥I agree with this one, some good insights:

http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2012/02/david-graeber-concerning-the-violent-peace-police-a-response-to-chris-hedges-nplusone.html

Rachel E.B. Lang

♥While i agree with all the criticisms of Hedges, i actually disgree with deleting the post from WAMMToday.  Whether we like it or not, Hedges has opened the floodgates to an age-old line of hooey, and both in validating the liberal center that is critical of occupy and in the overwhelming, and (mostly) well thought out backlash to the piece, it is unavoidable.  In the same way that #OWS opened the door to certain ideas, this article has opened other avenues of discourse, and while we here in the twin cities may have largely resolved these issues, we can’t just sit back and say, “Dude, we we put together these principles.  Big fail on you.”

While i would love to see key folks around here who developed the principles challenge him to a debate (Seriously. i bet if KFAI did it as a fundraiser special, the hype would pay their bills for a while.), i don’t think we can ignore it.  i suspect you did not intend to support the conclusions or implications of the article by posting it, Sue Ann.  What i would ask is that in the future, when posting something that violates our communities core principles and/or is an attack on members of our community, some of which are in Oakland now– (In fact, there were many discussions with those folks about the principles after the first serious incidents at #OO last fall, and at the dinner last month my friend Steve Brady, who works with union and anarchist forces in Oakland got a chance to chat with [others] in person)–you’d be sure to put an extra disclaimer on it.

We cannot ignore what the federal agencies say about our communities in the same way.  This is a clear attack by establishment forces on our movement, and people should read it in the same way we read press releases by said gov’t forces.  The fact that this came from a writer that many of us thought of as an ally, or at the very least we respected much of his recent work, makes it much more problematic, but does not by any means excuse us from dealing with the issues surrounding the article.

also, for geek clarity, the original version of Graeber’s response can be found at:  http://nplusonemag.com/concerning-the-violent-peace-police.  Though i caution that Graeber does not define the movement either.  It is a movement of the people, and we are all ultimately responsible for whether it succeeds or fades.

i would also request that you include some of the better responses, including this one and the one linked by Luce in your next WAMMToday.

thanks, Doug.

one more good response, from another famous anarchist who i have mixed feelings about:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/09/the-surgeons-of-occupy/

If nothing else, this experience reminds me that even if i have debates with folks like Graeber and Gelderloos, i can count on them to have our back, unlike mainstream figures like Hedges.  You’ll note he not only quotes the principles, but links to them as well.

in solidarity, doug


One comment

  1. I am delighted to see this conversation happening. I agree 100% with Michelle Gross but then I am sure that many of you all knew that. Having said that, We should never stop anyone from expressing their views, even when we disagree with them.

    Chris Hedges is a good man and even a good man can be wrong every now and then.

    Like

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