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Nonviolent Protest vs. Diversity of Tactics

11. März 2012 in Blog - alle Themen

There have been and still are many discussions around which role violence plays in certain movements and protests. I think we should start thinking about which tactics are effective and which are ineffective when planning actions – if we really want to make a change in the society we are living in, or effectively resist and change the system we are fighting against, instead of working with it. When we reflect on violence, we have to consider in what kind of society we were socialized. Where extremely violent forms of competition, discrimination and hierarchical structures belong to our daily lives and we cannot just leave them behind from one day to another. We can, rather should try to abandon them, but till then, we have to realize, that we are NOT nonviolent. Reconsider, that we live in states, which define our comprehension of violence and peace, which actually FIGHT for peace. Reconsider, a person, who has faced repression by the state her or his whole life will not always be able to resist nonviolently when they face police violence. I am calling for a more anger, for a more radical movement, also if radical means radically peaceful.

I have transcribed two very inspiring videos from a panel discussion of Decolonize Oakland/ The Oakland Commune – for better understanding – on nonviolent protest vs. diversity of tactics. Also have a look at the videos of the other panelists! Enjoy – and I am looking forward to the discussion.

Paolo – Anarchist Organizer and Occupy Oakland participant

My name is Paolo, I´m from Santa Cruz, California. Well, and I´m a little bit hesitant to give you my activist credentials; just that you can have some idea what I care about. I´ll name a few things I´ve been involved in over the years. I´ve been involved in a tree-sit in Santa Cruz, California against the development of a bio technology facility.  I´ve been involved in the struggle against the building an interstate highway, Interstate Highway 69 in Indiana. I´ve done legal support in Minneapolis, Minnesota for those arrested at the Republican National Convention Protests. And I´ve also been involved in occupy Oakland here, as well as my other struggles over the past few years.

So, just a quick disclaimer: What I am about to say is for intellectual and entertainment purposes only, I do not at all advocate any illegal action, violence against the forces that suppress you or organized insurrection against the state and capital.

Violence, is when a mother is denied food stamps and feels that she has no option left but to shoot herself and her two children. Violence is when the police beat and kill youth of colour in Oakland, it is when immigrant families work three jobs to sustain themselves and their relatives abroad. When the military spreads democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan with stealth-bombers and drones. Violence is a modern day slave labour facilitated by the prison system it is a slow and hideous havoc that the court system wrecks on the lives of those who have the wrong skin colour or can´t afford a good lawyer. But violence is also when we fight back, it is a tool, to get what one wants or needs. One of the oldest and most effective tools. Violence can be an intense form of care and love. The material expression of our passion for freedom and each other. These days, I guess that what is labelled violence, is what is outside or against the law. When people take matters into their own hands.  One example of this you can see just from the port blockade: which Jean Quan calls economic violence against the city of Oakland. I think we all know what actually constitutes economic violence. If we are here to talk about strategies or tactics for the occupy movement, then it is necessary to point out that this framework begs the question for what exactly we are strategizing for. For if one subscribes one of the simplistic paradigms of nonviolence or diversity of tactics, one does that with a goal in mind. Whether that is simply the continuation of a movement as such in a navigating role as activists in it. Or the movements transformation to an anticapitalist struggle. I am interested in fighting for a classless, stateless world. Where we can organize our lives as we please. Free of the shekels of wage labour and from oppression based on our gender, race or sexuality. More specifically: I am not utopian but rather struggle for the destruction of all prisons and prison-like social relations, that bind us together. I am not interested in frame frapped structures such as such as justice , accountability or even peace. Just as I am not interested in reforming this disgusting system. We already live under the state´s version of peace and I am not convinced that the activists version would be much better. To understand the occupy movement, we have to look at the larger context. It´s the current expression of the psychotic struggle that has resonated across the globe over the last few years. From the Greek insurrection of the year 2008 to the Arab Spring, to the riots in England. None of which were nonviolent. These struggles have many common threats. Some of the most prominent being the insurgent anger against police violence enacted on poor, mostly non-white communities. As well as a reaction against the contemporary expression of the austerity state, which we see here as budget cuts and massive unemployment. The occupy movement is the beginning of a movement against austerity. And of course it will take the forms dictated by material and social conditions. In post-industrial cities like Oakland, where many of us are essentially a surplus population, …the struggle ends up taking the form of homeless people, students, unemployed, activists, and even workers coming together in the streets. Right now we see a middle class work force becoming dispossessed, proletarianized for the first time and just like in Wisconsin, people are beginning to fight back. The occupy movement has been largely started, at least in the activist sector, by white, middle class people. And these upstanding citizens, who often compose protest movements, want to retain the privileges that have already been stripped from so many. This class composition manifests itself in the movement´s approach to violence and its tendency to use constitutionalist language and declare the cops as part of the 99%. It is an inherently privileged position to proclaim the cops as your ally or even to resist nonviolent, which many people don´t have the opportunity to start from, when they face police violence their whole lives. Well, so called non-violent tactics are important and a de-escalative struggle should be a focus. It´s most effective when paired with defensive and offensive violence against those who´d stop us from reclaiming the commons, our homes, etc. also if you study moments of unrest in history, such as 1968 from Mexico to France and across the world, or 1977 in Italy, when workers took over their factories and struggled in the streets alongside students, Oaxaca in 2006 or even in the Arab Spring you find all sorts of tactics being used in tandem with each other. To great effect. A dogmatic non-violence is not only ineffective, it is ahistorical. Well it is good, if we can successfully blockade the port, it is better if we can defend the pickets and barricades from the riot police. It is wonderful if we can occupy an abandoned commercial space and establish a social centre for the use of the people. But it is even more powerful, if we can stop the sheriffs from evicting us. I am not arguing for a symmetrical war or a full skilled military conflict, but rather use a diffuse asymmetrical warfare as the situation warrants. We can and should use all of the means that are disposal at a creation of  zones that are free from police control and outside of the dictates of capital. What was liberating and exciting about the Oakland Commune, which is, what some people call the Occupy Oakland, wasn´t that we were sitting a yet another protest, in a cold muddy park, in the middle of a dirty city. But rather, that it was the creation of a space, that at the same time served our own needs, allowing us to provide for one another, and was a direct conflict to capitalism and forces of the state. Unlike other occupations around the country we took a confrontational stance against the police from the very beginning. Making a habit of chasing them out and chanting each time they came into the plaza, saying pigs go home, this allowed many people, who would have been alienated by the police presence or collaboration with the cops to participate in the occupation, as well as stopping the daily police harassment of homeless folks, who sleep in the plaza. I am about out of time, I have a lot more I wanted to say, but, I´ll just finish quickly, by saying that, if what we really want, is a radically different society, but we must expect will take an intensity of struggle to achieve it. We cannot simply sit down or appeal to authority. We must become students of revolt and avoid as much as we can the pit bulls of the past politics. Any strict ideology or dogma will only hinder us, whether it is nonviolence or a fetishization of violence. Instead, let’s work together to resist and discover how much we are capable of.

Matthew Edwards – Anarchist Organizer, Conscientious Objector, PhD student in the History of Consciousness

I´ll give you some context of who I am. I was one of the first conscientious objectors from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I refused deployment to Afghanistan and I told them that I wasn´t going to go to Iraq. They locked me in a dungeon for six months, they beat me, they tortured me and they broke my hip. They finally kicked me out. Since that time, I´ve spent the last almost ten years – eight years – working with which ever community I find myself in – typically around issues of anti-militarism, but over the past few years it´s been around anti-police brutality work as well as community empowerment work. So, it´s a pleasure to be here.

I want to speak for a moment about the facts of our current movement. I hate to say it – but – it´s actually a violent movement. Let me explain why. There´s racism in our movement. There´s a lot of racism in our movement. I´d just like everyone to look around for a moment. Who´s next to you, infront of you, behind you. Right. Okay. I´m going to leave that unsaid. There´s some classism in our movement. There really is. I don´t know if you´ve been down to the occupy encampments – any of the occupy encampments – you can tell that there´s difference in class. And I think it´s fair to say that out loud. There´s homophobia. The fact that there are “safe spaces” that have been fought for – prove that. And there´s patriarchy. Lots of it. And I think it´s fair to voice that, too. Now, those are all extremely VIOLENT, STRUCTURAL forms. And those forms are wrapped around our movement like a cancer. So, to say, that we have a nonviolent movement, is false. Our movement has some violence in it. It´s a little bit higher than the surface. It´s hard to see, but it´s there. Our movement is also privileged. Sometimes that privilege has to come with experience. Maybe you´ve been around for a while, you know everybody, so you kind of get put at the front, in terms of stack. Maybe you started a committee and end up leading it? The hierarchy of information – is a dangerous violent form. So, I´d like us all just to pause for a moment and reflect – this movement has some deep elements of violence.

Now, we come to the discussion of tactics. I agree that nonviolence can be a way of life. And I would ask, that you keep your way of life to yourself and let me live my life how I want to live it. And I WILL do the same for you.

I´d like to turn to our collective memories here. I´m going to talk about Oscar Grant. I´m going to talk about the Oakland General Assembly. And I´m going to talk about the night after the first eviction, when we saw that street fight on the news, before the news feed was cut.

Who here participated in any of the riots in the Oscar Grant movement? – there were four of them. Okay. So, I only ask you, because I don´t want to speak to a group of people who already know. But let me say: A week after the murder of Oscar Grant, nothing had been done. There had been rallies, there had been press releases, but nothing structurally had been done. And then, people who were not in this room, went into the streets, and they smashed shit. And they set some stuff on fire. And they fought the cops. And a hundred people got arrested. All but two got charges put on them, and those charges were pled out. But over the course of almost two years, there were three other riots. The cop who killed Oscar Grant, served a little bit of jail time. He would have served NO jail time, had people NOT gone out into the streets and demanded vengeance. It was violence. And I´m actually okay with that.

Second point. During the General Assembly, there was a disruptive individual. I´m going to leave him nameless. But over the course of three nights, there was a steady progression. He was de-escalated each time. He´d come maybe suffering from some sort of mental situation, maybe he was on drug, alcohol, I didn´t stop to ask him. But he was intense, he was aggressive, and he was calmed down, using nonviolent tactics. It was great. And then he came back the next night. And then again, he was talked down. And then, on the third night, he pulled a knife, and he started to aggress towards people. And the response was, someone grabbed a 2×4* and hit him on the back of his head. He got knocked out. He was pulled from the camp, he was med examined to make sure he was alive, he was – and that was the end of it, he didn´t come back, he wasn´t welcome anymore. Now, I wonder, in our nonviolent movement, if someone hadn´t gotten up and smacked him on the back of his head – would the cops have been called? I want to think that actually that probably would have happened. And then this poor guy would have been thrown into the violent penitentiary system, maybe beaten by police. And at the very least he would have been again, once again, been thrown into this violent machine. And instead, people took it upon themselves, to use a little bit of violence, to end the situation, that needed to be ended. And I applaud that. And finally, the reason why people were able to reoccupy the second time, is because they fought the police. Not with guns, not with fire bombs; with their bodies, and sometimes rocks. And do you know what? Those images were spectacular. Not because they were super cool violent images. Because they showed people resisting. Resisting in a way that made sense, resisting in a way, that people could understand. So, the plaza was reoccupied, and it lasted. – Until it was, again, destroyed by the cops.

So, I´d just like to say, one, actually look at the situation: There are so many different forms of structural violence that we need to confront, and we´re arguing about tactics, that have been proven time in time again, to actually get some results.

Thank you.

*wooden lath


1 Antwort auf Nonviolent Protest vs. Diversity of Tactics

  1. Thank you for your valuable contribution – I agree with your and the two young men´s opinion. Also, I find the second guy quite sexy ;) I am also looking forward to the upcoming debate.

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