If you have "no place to go," come here!

Concerning violence advocates and the Black Bloc in Occupy

danps's picture

[I'm going to leave this sticky for awhile, since it seems to have generated some responses, and highlights some issues that will become more critical as spring approaches. Now is the time to have this conversation. --lambert]

This was published with considerable feedback from DCblogger, affinis, lambert and okanogen. My sincere thanks to all of them for their help.

The issue of violence at Occupy flared up last week when Chris Hedges used violent rhetoric to make the case for nonviolence. It was not the first time, either; he'd approvingly written of Greeks rioting - his protests to the contrary notwithstanding. (Lambert has been using the "own goal" metaphor to describe Hedges' clumsier efforts.)

This is a big problem because of his prominence. When he writes something, people notice. Someone like David Graeber is moved to respond, spending a good deal of time on the theme of "whatever your intentions, it is very hard to read your statement as anything but an appeal to violence." If violence advocates (VAs) feel the need to answer language like that (or are simply clever enough debaters to seize that rhetorical opening), it crowds out discussion of other issues, and there's plenty else to discuss.

For instance, the idea that NVAs should emphatically disassociate themselves from VAs seems terribly provocative to Graeber. He writes (emph. in orig.):

Successful movements have understood that it's absolutely essential not to fall into the trap set out by the authorities and spend one's time condemning and attempting to police other activists. One makes one's own principles clear. One expresses what solidarity one can with others who share the same struggle, and if one cannot, tries one's best to ignore or avoid them, but above all, one keeps the focus on the actual source of violence, without doing or saying anything that might seem to justify that violence because of tactical disagreements1 you have with fellow activists.

First, there's a world of difference between condemning violence and attempting to police it; lumping these together is careless at best and a sneaky tactic at worst. Second, condemning VAs loudly is important because, as Graeber himself shows later in that same piece, the absence of explicit denunciation is taken by VAs as an implicit endorsement ("Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer."2). If NVAs want to avoid that kind of unwelcome association they have no option but to be crystal clear about their stance.

Also, Graeber's framing is a false choice where condemning violent reactions to police brutality is somehow excusing and further, even inviting police brutality. One can believe both kinds of violence are wrong, and it is a mighty cynical kind of solidarity that requires those who believe in nonviolence to ignore those who practice violence. Silence equals approval. If you employ a tactic that you know goes against my deeply held beliefs, why is it my beliefs which must be suppressed? In that formulation, violence trumps nonviolence, because only the former is granted a full spectrum of expression.

The calls for silence among NVAs have taken a particularly sinister turn recently as VAs have begun to also insist that no (potentially inconvenient) live streaming be done of events, lest they show Black Bloc tactics in action without the aid of a painstaking explanation by an apologist. So Black Bloc now comes full circle to embrace precisely the same mindset of brutality and suppression that they claim to find so objectionable in police. And since Black Bloc is relatively easy to infiltrate during an action, we aren't necessarily just talking about an ideological merger, either.

These tactics are spectacularly wrong-headed; as Charles commented:

[Hedges] would have done better to point to the long history of the police inserting their agents into demonstrations to commit crimes and thereby tar the demonstrators. The logical question then is, "if the police are paying people to smash windows, why are you doing it for free?"

Why indeed? As DCblogger remarks in mail: "No snitching cries are a good indicator of a police informer. Bringing in the police is very dangerous to informers, so they don't want anyone to do that." As for the suppression, I initially considered likening it to the infamous Stop Snitchin' campaign, but refrained because I thought VAs might find the unsavory connection objectionable. Well, turns out they're going there themselves3. What's next, omertà?

Perhaps VAs, like Mitt Romney, believe some things should only be discussed in quiet rooms. That would be very convenient for VAs, to have gentle talks in dulcet tones out of the spotlight while chaos is stirred up on the streets, and the public views the entire movement through the lens of violent activism.

Those opposed to violent actions (no matter how you define them) do not have that luxury, though. They need to voice their opposition strenuously and publicly, because literally everyone else -- VAs, authorities, and the wider citizenry -- will assume they approve of violent tactics otherwise.

Finally, there's a dynamic that both sides are coming to grips with. Susie Cagle describes it thus:

While previous criticisms came from the right or center of the political spectrum, these perspectives are arising from the left and mainly from journalists who have not been in the field to witness these tactics in action and within context.

And Graeber (again):

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.

There are two points being made. First, Cagle is right that those who are actually on the scene are best qualified to report on what is happening. God knows there has been enough shoddy reporting from those who blandly pass along press releases from City Hall or who parachute in for a day or two and presume to write their authoritative accounts. There's no substitute for long term, on-the-ground reporting, and the accounts from those folks should be taken to be the most credible unless they demonstrate otherwise.

But as valuable as that experience is for a reporter, it can be hazardous for an activist: There's a certain "I was there" snobbishness that can creep in. Arguing from authority has been one of the major complaints of those frustrated with insular, self-referential and power privileging reporting from MSM outlets. Seeing it from activists is particularly disturbing, and seeing it from anarchists like Graeber is mind-boggling.

While those on the inside are better positioned to give a front row story, they are also susceptible to the myopic perspective that causes relatively small or inconsequential elements to be wildly distorted. VAs may have an elaborately constructed paradigm to justify their tactics, and may have meticulously selected a regional franchise's windows to break, instead of a "locally owned" coffee shop4 (curated vandalism, if you will), but guess what? The uninitiated observer will just see destruction5.

The position of VA that destroying property and physically confronting police is some kind of sublime critique requires an almost complete level of self-absorption. It takes a resolute and willful ignorance to not see how obviously repellent such tactics are to the population at large6. VAs might respond by saying they disregard the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois pigs, which is fine. But those who characterize the populace like that have no place in a movement that strives to represent -- or at least get approving forbearance from -- the bottom 99% of the economic scale.


1. VAs are notoriously slippery in their arguments. They insist that they never, ever be criticized over what they call tactical disagreements -- but refuse to make themselves distinct from those who want no part of their tactics. NVAs tried to make that distinction plain from the very beginning in Oakland and violence advocates prevented it. In effect, the groups were associated against one of the groups' will. Yet VAs remain extraordinarily touchy about being criticized. So they force themselves on those who strenuously disagree with their tactics and then act like aggrieved victims if there is any objection. And incidentally, that disagreement is foundational. VAs like to pretend its some sort of minor semantic difference, but in fact it goes to the very heart of what Occupy represents: VAs consider it an insurgency; NVAs a mass movement. Those two are mutually exclusive.

2. Any veering off into What Would Gandhi Do is an unhelpful distraction as far as I'm concerned. Occupy is happening right now; we need to focus on what's happening right now and give our arguments for or against it in terms of what's happening right now. Hypotheticals, theoreticals, thought experiments and other flights of fancy are as counterproductive as eliminationist rhetoric.

That said, Graeber misrepresents Gandhi. His claim that Gandhi refused to denounce the murderer by a radical is simply not true. The passage comes from here (via affinis in email), and Gandhi clearly denounces it: "I must say that those who believe and argue that such murders may do good to India are ignorant men indeed. No act of treachery can ever profit a nation. Even should the British leave in consequence of such murderous acts, who will rule in their place? The only answer is: the murderers."

Affinis also sent along this; see particularly the last part: "Do you not tremble to think of freeing India by assassinations?" etc. Perhaps violence advocates require a certain amount of historical revisionism to make their ideology palatable for the masses. I wonder why that would be?

3. There's at least an equally long post that can be written about suppression, bullying and sexism by violence advocates. While they bristle at any suggestion they are animated by a hypermasculine mindset, it's pretty clear that women are overwhelmingly (but not unanimously!) turned off by the kind of glorified hooliganism VAs champion. If they don't lose their voices entirely they will only be heard if they manage to become sufficiently appealing to a powerful male.

4. The romanticized notion of targeting a national coffee chain over a locally owned coffee shop might be some more historical revisionism. Affinis, via email:

I doubted this when I read it, since most Black Blocs agree on a strict policy of not damaging owner-operated enterprises, and I now find in Susie Cagle's response to your article that, in fact, it was a chain coffee shop, and the property destruction was carried out by someone not in black."

This is a reference to Tully's coffeeshop. I tried digging into this a bit. Individual Tully's coffeeshops explicitly advertise themselves as locally owned and operated. But Tully's is a franchise. Across firms, franchises vary in their level of central control. Apparently with Tully's the individual shops are pretty much independent in operation and style (unlike say a McDonald's franchise), but all sell coffee from the mother firm, etc.

Whether or not the property destruction was carried out by someone in black (and I've not seen any evidence of this outside of Cagle's article, where she was arguing against Hedges) might be a bit besides the point. In the Nov 2 evening events, in the videos, the people carrying out the trashing seemed to be predominantly be young men wearing bandannas, and it seemed that they clearly knew each other and were acting in a coordinated fashion, but many were not wearing black. Incidentally, in Oakland, both Tully's and that Starbucks that later had its windows smashed had donated food to OO before getting their windows smashed.

As far as BB respecting owner operated businesses - I've seen little evidence of that.

So take the lofty claims with a grain of salt.

5. One of the few resonant points VAs make is that those who go into the legal system face a very hard time. America's onerous and punitive criminal justice policies not only warehouse people for excessively long periods, but brands them for life after release. But that is just one part of the issue. DCblogger in an email: "[P]utting someone into the criminal justice system is a very serious matter. it is life altering. But then, so is smashing the window. The bank can replace the window. Or they can shut down the branch. Washington DC's riot corridor was a ghost town for 30 years. The damage of a riot lives a long time after the riot. I hate to think what business insurance is in Oakland right now."

6. In a way, getting bogged down in VA arguments is counterproductive because it distracts us from looking at what kind of actions are inclusive and inviting. This is an extension of the "insurgency vs. mass movement" dichotomy in footnote 1. Via email, activist Joseph Anderson:

Occupy Oakland, and the Occupy movement, cannot both have a diversity of people and a "diversity of tactics" at this time -- and the movement can't shortcut the process of attaining, and retaining, the first by jumping to the second.

Via email, lambert:

The object IMNSHO should be to get as many people as possible supporting Occupations with their physical presence. This is what the Egyptians did. "All walks of life" must participate. One can also think of this as "safety in numbers." Only NV can do that.

As a corollary, transparency and accountability are key, because if the GA decides that an event will be NV, and a bunch of parents bring their kids in strollers, and a lot of old people come with their walkers, and then a black blocker heaves a bottle at the police and the police charge the crowd, then (a) you've put innocents at risk, (b) you've lost a ton of people, who not only feel fearful but betrayed, and rightly so, and (c) you make it harder for part of the country that are not yet Occupy-friendly to become so.

And as a corollary to that, Occupy is pre-figuring what a transparent and accountable public process looks like. Where else have you seen one of those lately? But if, in the name of autonomy, you've got black blockers doing violence, then nothing is transparent and accountable at all (unless you want to make the assumption that random violence is always possible). So the pre-figuration gets destroyed as well.


And I don't think that the idea is that the state will respond with illegal violence. A child of six knows that. The lesson is in the prefiguration. The libraries, the kitchens. Doing something.

And finally this from activist Soul:

We are being killed economically especially small businesses and all resources for our children. We have schools closing down, we have murders daily. That needs to be addressed, but we're trying to teach our children not to use violent measures, to use restorative justice and things. And then we have this violence and madness. Whether the police do it to them or they do it - both sides need to stop, I feel. The police and them, and let us get busy to try and build and create in a positive manner.

So that is why I'm standing; I'm not with the Chamber of Commerce. I'm representing West Oakland community - the children that are voiceless, the poor, the disabled - that will not have a voice with that group...I think [black bloc] has been infiltrated by police infiltrators, by provocateurs and stuff, and they're falling for it.

Because see there's this game in Occupy. As soon as any violence or any type of aggression happens it's the anarchists. And then when they do their call out, that's who they're calling to go front lines, and then they deny it...I think a lot of them, especially those that are always in the camera - you can see the one over there - are protest prostitute media whores. They look for the camera, they look for the sensation, rather than be busy daily in the community like many of us are. Daily. They're going to tear down our infrastructure. Well it's not going to be allowed...I want them to go home, they've overstayed their welcome. Many of them aren't even from this city, and I can start pointing at who don't live here. But I don't want to do that. I send them much respect and love, but enough's enough. You know, enough is enough.

There's no direction, no demand. They talk about foreclosures. Why the hell aren't they standing in front of a bank all day every day, jamming the engines? No no, we're gonna tear up city hall, we're gonna tear up whatever.

Preventing Wells Fargo from foreclosing on a house may not provide the adrenaline rush that smashing shit up provides, but it is actually far more provocative and subversive. To the extent that VAs prevent that kind of more productive activity it is deeply damaging to Occupy.

Also, the "There's no direction, no demand" critique has traction that initial "why don't they have demands?" cries against OWS didn't have. Occupy has begun to formulate demands via direct actions like Occupy Our Homes and supporting local strikes. The first charges were specious because they were leveled against a mass movement just beginning to articulate its beliefs. In the early days, what Charles Pierce called shouting at the right buildings was enough. Once activism started it became more reasonable to expect protesters to have some kind of message. So "no direction, no demand" is a fair charge to level against VAs.

No votes yet


jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

they seem to always band together and shout down everyone else. That's what always seems to happen in the accounts I read.

I think this could be countered with just a little more discipline. Those with a vested interest in Occupy, particularly in Oakland, need to lay down the law: Occupy Oakland is a nonviolent resistance movement. Period. "Nonviolent resistance movement," needs to become part of Occupy's definition.

Therefore, violent actions are by definition not Occupy actions. Anyone who advocates coordinated property destruction or challenge of police must be told in no uncertain terms: your violent actions will have no support. You will not be Occupy. You will be alone and exposed and cast out.

And if they don't like it, they can go form their own damned movement.

All that said, I still can't agree with the idea of bringing children in strollers to this stuff. The Opposition is not for fragile types.

malagodi's picture
Submitted by malagodi on

I'm sorry, but I found this rather long essay to be a bit rambling and unfocused.

If it was to be a general argument against violent tactics, it failed to make attempts to do so with any historic examples or moral persuasions. If it was to be a critique of "VAs" in general, then I find it just uninteresting and guilty of what the author rightly says in the first paragraph; there are many other issues to be discussed more important than someone else's advocacy.

I agree with the author that when Hedges uses his rather elevated position for his favorite activity of denunciation, people tend to react. That he would turn his denunciation skills toward some tendencies of the Occupy movement, calling them 'cancerous', rather than staying focused on the industrial/capitalist hydra was bound to be provocative in ways that his de rigeur bashing of mainstream institutions is not. I think that his unfortunate use of the cancer metaphor was a clumsy mistake, indeed an own goal as Lambert says.

But I do think it brings out something that I have criticized Hedges for in the past; his use of inflammatory and revolutionary rhetoric while distancing himself from any responsibility in the inevitable destruction, violence, injustice and pain that is always a part of any revolutionary process.

I believe that we are mixing up two very different sets of goals and agendas in this whole Occupy discussion. Hedges espouses a revolutionary agenda - a decidedly anti-capitalist agenda that in this country amounts to, and cannot be achieved without, revolution, but conducted with the tools of the reformist. Dr. King was a reformer. The Black Panthers were revolutionaries. Civil Rights was a 'mainstream' movement. Black Power and Black Nationalism was not.

This is the fundamental decision that individuals must make for themselves; do they believe that we can reform the existing regime to create a more just and humane society, or do they believe that the changes that need to occur for human survival require changes so radical that the existing structures cannot be modified to achieve, and therefore must be taken down and replaced. Regime change.

I personally believe the existing regime must be changed. That does not mean I advocate violence. But at the same time I know the historical record, and have seen first hand, the revolutionary process. It is never not violent. It is never just. It is never democratic.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

And we tried working on that.

The problem is that debating violence advocates is like nailing jello to a wall. They use deflection "you should be talking about the violence of the state and police thugs, rather than attacking people in the movement", they use obfuscation "there is no such thing as "property" so property damage isn't violence", they change the definitions "Black Bloc is not a group, it's a tactic, why are you condemning Black Bloc people and seeking to excise us?", they use transference "It's the "Peace Police" that are the violent ones, they are going to get activists killed, they want activists killed, they are the only ones who are attacking people", they use dismissal "Oh, there is always going to be violence, it' is never not violent, and anyway, it's only a few rowdy young kids blowing off steam".

For example, from David Graeber's (no "rowdy young kid", he) piece and subsequent tweets come the following epic fail arguments:

Violent Peace Police are the problem
NVAs advocate ethnic cleansing and extermination*
Condemning Black Bloc equals condemning Jews
“Successful movements” understand this works**
Violence will happen regardless
Black Bloc, group or tactic? He uses it as both!
Denying violence means denying direct actions and civil disobedience
Arguments from Authority

Graeber compares defending Black Bloc tactics with defending Judaism. I mean, What. The. Fuck? And he isn't the only one putting forth these arguments. How much of the onion do you have to peel before you realize it is rotten to the core? Really, this isn’t about the failings of Hedges (and your entire comment was about Hedges), and of course there are many, this is about the complete failure of the VAs argument. Stop deflecting it to Hedges, we know he is flawed, it's not about him, it's about the violence.

Part of the above is from the email exchanges we had regarding this post, so maybe we didn't ramble enough?

*Quote "Surely you must recognize, when it’s laid out in this fashion, that this is precisely the sort of language and argument that, historically, has been invoked by those encouraging one group of people to physically attack, ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another—in fact, the sort of language and argument that is almost never invoked in any other circumstance."
** an unchallenged statement quoted above.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

and it's part of the same discussion we've been having for years, eg, "more and better democrats" vs a completely new political party/organization with revolutionary goals that are global and not just related to the american political process.

i guess some would label me a "VA" although i do not advocate violence upon human beings. i do advocate for the destruction of "property" via electronic hacking, and the use of any tactic that will disrupt the current financial structures which paralyze so many of us and prevent us from being more effective social reformers. i'm perfectly willing to have nonviolent communication with people who agree and disagree with that type of action.

but i think i've expressed it here before, imho the tactics of the Civil Rights era will not be enough. true revolution is really the only way anything will change. and it is violent, messy, and undemocratic. that's just plain history, folks.

and danps: less is more, my friend, in argumentative writing.

Submitted by lambert on

... I'm looking back at the 20th C and I'm not seeing violent revolutions, especially those with vanguards, as having a really good track record or an unambiguously positive net outcome. Surely that's an uncontroversial point of view? So I don't, to use the term of art, fetishize "revolution," "making revolution," or any of that. I don't think that "making revolution every day" is a goal that most people share. I think it depends completely on the concrete case. If we want to classify Egypt as a revolution, well, not so bad. If we want to classify Russia, China, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan as revolutions in the 20th C, to try to put the full left right spectrum there, not so much.

Nor do I buy the "inevitability" talking point. Lots of things look inevitable in hindsight, but when advocates claim that what they want is inevitable, I tend to look twice at the claim. "Come on. You know you want to."

As for the length, we all have our style. I think it's fine, or I would have caused it to be slashed. I'm not shy. It's not necessarily a piece for the hlghly toned Corrente reader, but designed more for general circulation.

UPDATE And if we want to classify the militarized events in Libya and Syria as revolutions, the #FAIL is already becoming evident. Too bad so many people laid down their lives to exchange one general in sunglasses for another, but there you go. They were adults, they knew what they were doing...

UPDATE I hardly think that advocating for a non-violent Occupy movement is equivalent to "More and better Democrats." I mean, come on. Let's invest something analytical in the thread here, mkay?

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

"History" and all that. Understood. We know already.

But why am I expected to condone it, approve of it, appease it? Actually, speaking very materialistically, what has violence ever done for me? What has it ever done for you? Has any act of violence ever been a positive in your life? How often has it been a negative? What's the ratio?

That is actually a serious question.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

I'm taking you literally on this being a serious question. While I'd prefer a far more restricted police force than we have in this country, I nonetheless think it's generally better to have police -- I guess I'd say their arresting the burglar who was breaking into houses in my neighborhood did something for me. And the essence of a police force is, in fact, their permission to use force.

There are some definitional problems here. Is force the same as violence? Is the state monopoly on violence a legitimate moral demand? A person whose answers differ from yours is not necessarily being dishonest. I tend to feel that if you're absolutely anti-violence, you oppose police and armies.

I'll agree that people who advocate forceful disruption as a good tactic for the Occupy Movement are wrong right now. But spending time and emotional energy labelling them "Violence Advocates" and breathlessly reciting everything that any one of them may have said as evidence that they're all, what? liars? doesn't strike me as productive. It's like all my good Democratic Party friends carrying on at length about how awful Republicans are. Well, yes, they are. You've convinced me. Now, what? On the violence/non-violence issue, now what?

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

along with rhetorical questions and italics. I guess people react to styles differently. I frequently find okanogen's comments helpful, and in this case you may have found his repeated use of them judicious and forceful. But sins named here: "they use deflection. . .", "they use obfuscation . . .", "they change definitions . . .", "they use dismissal . . .", really seemed to be genuine questions. I don't for example think the issue of state violence is a deflection from the general question of violence. Understanding neither the apparently totally consensual group that could all believe and cite the same illogical twists nor the out of hand rejection of some legitimate questions, I was sort of left wondering what discussion ought to consist of other than naming and shaming your dissenter. Basically, I was calling high rhetorical flourish breathless recitation.

Calling people "violence advocates" heavily implies that they advocate using violence to address most disagreements. The description of the workshop by jcasey below explains the problem succinctly. How accurate is it to use the same term to describe Timothy McVeigh and Philip Berrigan? Am I the same because I supported the arrest of a neighborhood burglar? I'll hand it to you, though; it certainly eschews euphemism. On the other hand, it suggests that there's a single bright line separating the sheep from the goats in all situations, but in fact it's a shifting line that undercuts the mutual support necessary for long, slow predominantly peaceful campaigns.

Submitted by lambert on

Occupy Marines draws it at their disclaimer. OWS draws it (with documentation caveats). OO very explicitly does not draw it. I'm trying to figure out whether OccupyChicago does or not.

That is, if a GA adopts a commitment to non-violence, that really helps with the line. I know it's a complicated world, and so on, but that seems pretty clear. And we can parse out the definitions.

And one thing I'm amazed at is how deeply embedded in American culture the commitment to violence is. Yeah, I know that's stupid [insert cultural and class disclaimers here]. It's ubiquitous. So, yeah, "violence advocated." One might think of it, almost, as the default setting.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

You know, I answered you on violence and force and the state, and where did that get me? Nowhere apparently, because look out! I narrowed the focus down to advocating violence as a tactic in Occupy. Which is the only real topic at hand, isn't it? Advocating, or excusing advocates of violence in Occupy. It really is that simple.

Instead we are on about quotation marks. Good god. So I'm so very, very sorry that I used quotation marks around the examples of the stock tropes used by VA and the VA friendly. I'll try not to do it again. So shoot me*. We will also try not to ramble, or waste your valuable time, or be "unconvincing", except when we also are putting down Hedges.**

If you want, you can put quotes around the stock arguments NVA use to decry violence in Occupy. I promise I won't call you "breathless" or "hysterical" or accuse you of having a case of the vapors, anything like that.

*Actually, that's just a joke, please don't shoot me. You can never be too careful about that.
** because Hedges is the whole point here.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

This is one of those discussions that I should have stayed out of, and I apologize for getting into it. I believe that violence is always bad, but that sometimes (rarely) refraining from use of force is worse. I gather that we agree that violence is the wrong tactic now for the Occupy movement. I simply didn't understand that that was all that was being said. I've misunderstood the thread running through Corrente for some time now, which I took to be arguing for commitment to non-violence in all campaigns at all times as both right and effective for non-state actors. I'm sorry first for reacting without understanding the parameters of the discussion, and second for responding to lambert's question about tone when there was no peaceable way to explain my reaction. You are right that I should know better.

Submitted by lambert on

I've been stretched very thin lately, and a lot of the unclarity you're experiencing is due to my not being involved in the threads as consistently as I generally am [lambert blushes modestly]. What appears to me to be one conversation had in many media at once doubtless seem, rather is fragmented when seen only here.

But yes, this is not general. This is about Occupy, which I think all of us can say we vehemently wish to succeed (granted, for some definition of success....).

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

My use of "you" above was meant more generally. I didn't mean to single you out personally and refer if I did by the way I wrote it.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

That is a fair question, and I'll give you one of my thoughts after clearing up some other matters.

I agree with you on police, their ability to use force against people who harm others is actually pretty vital. I've seen it up close. We had an intruder in our house, called the police, and they tased, maced, and set a police dog on the person, guns drawn. That was pretty extreme, but having someone break into your house is pretty fucking frightening too! So in this case, I "advocate violence". Guilty!

Regarding "force=violence", well yes, it is. In fact, people in the military are not shy about stating that their real purpose is to wage violence on behalf of the aims of the state. It is rare that I "support" their violence, but I think that sometimes state violence is necessary to combat a greater evil, slavery for example, the Holocost for another. So again, GUILTY! I'm a "violence advocate"!

So in many of these things, I then "advocate violence", I am a "violence advocate". So am I then a hypocrite if I'm a non-violence advocate for the Occupy movement? If I'm a non-violence advocate in my family, am I also a hypocrite? Hell, what's the difference right? Can't be a little pregnant!

So, now that you are convinced, now what? Well, how about if we end the Diversity Of Tactics weasel words in Occupy, that are there for only one purpose, to cover for violence, and instead commit to it being a non-violent movement? You have already admitted it's the wrong move, so wouldn't that be a good start?

Submitted by lambert on

I'm happy to restrict the use of the phrase to discussions of Occupy. Especially since that's the only context in which it occurs.*

Perhaps I should have said "Violence Police" as a counterpoint to "Peace Police"?

UPDATE * What Okagen said: "I narrowed the focus down to advocating violence as a tactic in Occupy. Which is the only real topic at hand, isn't it? Advocating, or excusing advocates of violence in Occupy. It really is that simple. "

I'm not interested in discussions about God and the world here. Just Occupy. Since it would be really really nice to succeed, ya know...

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

I'm happy to restrict the use of the phrase to discussions of Occupy. Especially since that's the only context in which it occurs.

Even though I haven’t found the phrase helpful, because of a lot of the issues raised here, it wouldn’t be restricted to discussions of Occupy. It might occur in any discussion involving resistance movements. (Ian’s discussion of “strategies for resistance and change,” for example, was in June, well before Occupy.)

I think the phrase might be restricted to questions of strategy regarding those movements but I have to think about it further.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

So to speak. Violence in the Occupy movement is what this specific post is about. Occupy isn't fighting against the Stalinist pogroms. We aren't in that place yet (or am I wrong?).

I reserve the right to change my stance if I think we get there.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

violence by the slaveowning classes did build up the prosperity of this nation.

Much of the first world's wealth was accumulated in taking over and extorting the third world.

So, has violence ever done anything unequivocally good? Probably not. Has violence ever resulted, perhaps tangentially, in good for me? Yes. Good for me, bad for the Native Americans, bad for the slaves, bad for the poor, and so on.

If we wish to proceed to a future where there is good for all, I'm not sure we can rely on violence.

Submitted by lambert on

The connection between debt and violence would be that theme.

(A person can only turned into a commodity and given a price by removing them from the context that makes them unique and hence "priceless." This can only be done by violence.)

Submitted by jcasey on

At least to the kinds of debts that can ever be paid. I am rereading the book and reflecting on Lakoff's assertion (in Moral Politics) that "moral accounting" is deeply embedded in our language and our thinking.

Also a big them, the foundation of the entire orthodox school of economic theory on fairy tales.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

I know. I plead guilty. I think I strayed into TL/DR territory. I blame my co-conspirators!

(EDIT for clarity: The above was an attempt at humor. I had concerns about length but my correspondents assured me it wasn't too long. It's definitely longer than what I usually post, but this was a case where I thought there was a lot of ground to cover. I hope it flows logically from one point to the next, doesn't have lots of extraneous verbiage, and doesn't go into "someone is wrong on the Internet" levels of excruciating detail. But blog posts aren't typically suited to longer pieces, and even the best written ones can try the patience of readers. I think I've got a good track record of keeping things in the 750-800 word range, so I guess in this case I'll beg the indulgence of familiar readers like yourself - and hope newer ones are willing to take a chance on the extended format.)

Submitted by jcasey on

I appreciate the sentiment behind this post. My own position in regards to "diversity of tactics" is expressed by Lisa, Juniper, and Star [my emphasis]:

‘Diversity of tactics’ becomes an easy way to avoid wrestling with questions of strategy and accountability. It lets us off the hook from doing the hard work of debating our positions and coming to agreements about how we want to act together. It becomes a code for ‘anything goes,’ and makes it impossible for our movements to hold anyone accountable for their actions.

The kind of discussion going on at Corrente is happening in many places. In Occupy Austin I have heard no one argue for or promote harming living beings or the destruction of property. If you consider taunting the cops with a FTP chant to be violence then you would occasionally be annoyed by a few people (who have plenty of reasons to be annoyed at the cops).

I'm not very comfortable with the "VA" and "NVA" terminology. It seems perilously close to "splitting" behavior. (You're either for me or against me, there's nothing in between, etc., ad nauseam.) "Violence" is one of those words we may think is easy to define, until we start looking at actions in the context of actual situations.

One of the best exercises conducted by a trainer during a "Non-violent direct action" workshop went something like this. Everyone stood in a group outside. She drew a line on the ground. Pointing to one end she said, "This end represents the most extreme violence. The other end represents complete non-violence." She proceeded to describe a series of scenarios. In each scenario an action was being taken by some person or some group, and everyone was asked to stand somewhere along the line depending on how violent or non-violent they judged the action. A few people were asked to explain their (literal) position on the action. There were about 30 people in our group and in all but a few scenarios there were people standing in different places along the line.

The trainer drew another line perpendicular and through the center of the first line. "This end represents actions you feel are completely justified. The other end represents actions that you feel are completely unjustified." Another series of scenarios (some of them variations on the first set) and it was sometime difficult to try and puzzle out where to stand stand. "Well, this is definitely violent but completely justified. Wait, what am I saying?" There was tension between the two "axes" of choice. You would never destroy property? What if the "property" is a nuclear tipped missile in a silo. Is blocking the entrance to a hotel full of financial racketeers ("savvy businessmen") violent? What if you are also keeping some working class folks from getting to their jobs in that hotel?

In actual situations decisions are not always easy to make, so actions should be discussed beforehand. If there are differences between members in a group people should be aware of them and come to some consensual agreement. Groups need agreements and successful agreements need to be forged with some clarity about not only what we have in common but also where we see the world differently.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

But the problem is that VAs are forcing their beliefs onto NVAs - and then insisting the latter say nothing. Those who believe in nonviolence have the right to object. And the issue is fundamental enough that I think it's fair to allow NVAs to be clearly distinct from VAs. The two approaches are incompatible, and if insisting that be understood is splitting, well, mark me down as in favor of it.

The exercise you describe sounds really interesting. I'm sure people come down in different ways in different circumstances. But (as I linked) OO tried to get a resolution of nonviolence very early on and was blocked by VA. In other words, they didn't even want a general expression of support for NV, much less a discussion of what those present generally considered amounted to violence.

So while I agree with your point in theory, looking at what's happening in practice doesn't allow for resolution along the lines you describe. VAs aren't interested in consensual agreement, they're interested in omerta. Therefore they should fly under their own goddamn flag and not try to get the halo effect by associating with those who embrace diametrically opposed - and much more popularly accepted - tactics.

Again, if that's encouraging splitting behavior then so be it. Better that then having the entire Occupy movement discredited by association with VAs.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Meaning May - in Chicago. I think VAs are trying to lay the groundwork for mayhem there.

Submitted by jcasey on

[Dang it. I hit the wrong "Reply" button. This was meant to link to Dan's reply to my initial comment on his fine post.]

...this awesome discussion. Such nicely articulated and well thought out posts are a big reason I appreciate the community at Corrente.

I am lucky here in Austin compared to some in other cities. We don't have anything I could rightly name as a "VA faction" in the local movement. There are plenty of VAs outside; we get some local frat boys and some right wing fanatics that Texas is famous for (and some hold public office).

"And the issue is fundamental enough that I think it's fair to allow NVAs to be clearly distinct from VAs." On this point I disagree. With a clear conscience I can tell you I do not support using violence as a tactic in the Occupy movement. When I use the word "violence" in that sentence I understand my meaning and intention; when others use it in other sentences I sometimes have to struggle before I understand what they mean. I'm wary of oversimplification. It can hide important issues and is sometimes used by those with privilege to silence other voices. ("It's dirt simple. Why don't you get it?")

"The two approaches are incompatible, and if insisting that be understood is splitting, well, mark me down as in favor of it." I do not think you are in favor of "splitting". Splitting is a favorite psychopathology of fanatics of all stripes and nothing about you I can discern from your writing makes me think you are a fanatic. I hear you insisting the issue is always simple, that its application is always easy to resolve, and I disagree. "The two approaches are incompatible..." Which two choices? I can easily formulate a number of pairs of "approaches" that are incompatible, but I do not know what you mean in this sentence unless we get into more detail. Is physical force used in self defense incompatible with a "non-violent" approach? Is the destruction or sabotage of a (non-living) machine that is used to kill people incompatible with a non-violent approach? What about computer hacking of systems used for oppression? Some questions are simple. Others are more interesting and not as easy to come to agreement about. I think we need to have those discussions.

Certain actions involve a degree of violence that no community can tolerate. Just to mention some categories that I don't think become controversial in most Occupy groups: murder, arson, assault, cruelty to animals. From there it seems to get more complicated.

Personally, I feel that shouting "Fuck you" at a cop who is beating a protester qualifies as violence; for me it does not reach the degree of violence that requires me to disassociate myself from that person or repudiate them. Shouting "Fuck you" at cops that are not themselves being violent in the present moment, because they signify the threat of a very malign violence exhibited in their actual history, their dress, and their willingness to be used by the powerful to oppress their fellow citizens, is still a form of violence and as a person with a lot of white male privilege it annoys the hell out of me. Yet, I would not consider it grounds for rejecting that person as an ally. While I might take a moment in a calmer environment to suggest that taunting the police is not really helpful in most protest situations, I would not think it absolutely warrants my intervention. Self-defense is more complicated. I am not outraged when a person employs physical resistance to avoid capture or physical harm, or to help others do so, but it may not be the wisest choice for everyone. I may make a different choice than you in this regard. I think that should be alright for both of us. Even better would be for both of us to have come to some previous agreement about what is the best response when things go down.

As the Trainers Alliance has written, the best strategy for this movement is to employ non-violent but active forms of non-cooperation and resistance to oppression, with agreements that are strong enough to allow everyone to make informed choices in full knowledge of the consequences, and as transparent and open as possible to minimize the opportunity for false-flag ops and infiltration by agent-provocateurs. Property destruction is almost never going to be a useful part of that sort of strategy. You can think of exceptions like some of the anti-nuke actions and the tearing down of fences to allow protesters to avoid kettling; mostly it is going to be counterproductive even when the property involved is clearly owned by a legitimate target like an oligarchal bank. But consider wheat paste postering the front of that bank's property. The bank and its stooge authorities will try and portray that as "vandalization" or "destruction of property"? Personally, I don't think postering a bank qualifies as violence but you may disagree, and we should probably discuss the question and come to an agreement before we go off together on a direct action where postering might happen.

I also want to mention what some trainers call "amnesty". Amnesty means doing our best to allow other people to change, to not hold something they said or did in the past over their head as a label we never allow them to escape. It's not clear cut, just something to keep in mind. (If they committed genocide we may not be so forgiving.) Although we may need to separate from people who actively promote or encourage actions we consider too violent to tolerate in our movement, we might remember that we will only be able to change their mind if we stay in communication with them. People who do stuff we don't like in the heat of a police assault might become susceptible to persuasion once the scene has calmed down.

Encouraging a more granular view of the violence/non-violence issue is not meant to criticize or diminish your concerns. Those in the movement who want to see it adopt a strategy of non-violent, active resistance need to work for strong agreements that establish boundaries around what kinds of action will be supported and what will be rejected. This will have to be worked out for each smaller group, one GA at a time. We shouldn't hide real conflicts behind a smoke screen like "diversity of tactics", but we also should not assume that passing a resolution in support of "nonviolence" is some sort of panacea.

Do you think I am making sense with any of this, or just burning your time?

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

This certainly didn't waste my time at all. Very thoughtful.

Some observations: speaking for myself, I'm trying to keep it to the arguments used and the tactics involved rather than the people and the history and "how experienced" folks are. So that means yes on the amnesty, however, people who have adopted the "no snitching" policy, especially when applied to livestreamers, so called "peace police" etc., should also bear that in mind, right? The other point is that I think what most self-described NVA (like myself) are really mainly concerned with one aspect, that of pre-planned and deliberate violence and/or destruction. We can and likely do disagree on unplanned responses, but we are all pretty sure we see deliberate pre-planning for violence when we see it. To use the phrase Lambert used in our email exchanges, "if you didn't want to go to Milwaukee, why did you get on the train?"

Now here's an excellent example; if the police aren't planning to be involved in a riot, why are they all in riot gear? Certainly people on our side point to police in riot gear as an ominous and even inciting behavior. It's really to the point of cliche "Police thugs in full riot gear" the implication is clear they are planning to give a beat down.

To riff on Lambert: If you aren't going to the prom, why the ball-gown/yellow tux?

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Inversion of narrative from Graeber at Kos:

I have been compiling a few examples of physical assaults on anarchists - but it seems there are lots more. One woman on Twitter reported she had been physically attacked at Occupy Toronto for carrying a red-and-black flag to a rally. Many have been assaulted in Oakland. In New York several anarchists have been kicked and had items of clothing torn off their bodies. On Hedges' own Truthout page, there are people calling on everyone to immediately turn anyone dressed like an anarchist over to the police. The amazing thing is that these incidents are not over anything the victim did. They are not responses to violence They are violent assaults on people who simply showed up wearing clothing or carrying insignia that identify them with a political orientation.

So VAs are the victims now. I think we need to gather as many links of separate VA actions as possible in order to say 1) this ain't nuns protesting nukes and 2) if the NVAs are the real thugs please provide comparable documentation. We're really starting to go down the rabbit hole on this one.

Submitted by lambert on

Does he give links? That's really quite remarkable. Black clad anarchists, who in Graeber's ethnography are presented as utterly competent, lithe, physically fit, being assaulted by non-violence advocates who in every other respect are presented as indecisive, weak, and so forth.

Having it both ways....

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

Thanks for the thoughtful response.

I think my main point of disagreement with you is in the focus on other cases. There's plenty of video of violence at OO and elsewhere (esp. Portland/Seattle) so I think it's really important to make decisions on those. That's what is happening right now. Where they ultimately fit in re: previous forms of provocation seems like a more theoretical question to me, and one maybe better suited for an academic environment.

I think it would be incredibly helpful if Graeber et. al. were willing to embrace a general principle of nonviolence; they might have a more expansive view of what falls under that umbrella, but at least support on a conceptual level would be helpful. I haven't seen any interest in that, though, and that makes me deeply skeptical of their attempts to do a comparative survey with other actions in the past.

I don't mean to lump your comments in with theirs. I'm just saying that when I see you covering the same ground it raises some red flags.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful comments. I really appreciate it.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

In your link to the Community Trainers open letter, there was a long comment by someone from OO named Georgette Oppen. I found her Pt.4 to be important as I had no idea about all this good organizing. It's like mentioning the Black Panthers only about their carrying guns and not their Children's Breakfast Program.

4. Someone at the GA this week articulated an extremely useful point: let’s hold off on any more proclamations, resolutions on this matter as these things will in effect divide people further right now. The camp is about to be raided by an army of police, blasted in the media, blamed for shootings and poverty and the business recession downtown, and being given ultimatums by the city council, all while it is feeding thousands and housing hundreds of people. It doesn’t need any more scoldings or exhortations to be one way or another. It needs your support as senior activists. I object to this letter because it does not constitute that support. What about instead an Open Letter in Support of the Fantastic Women Facilitators at GA? An Open Letter to the City Council in Support of OO? An Open Letter about Working Across Political and Strategic Orientations in a Movement? There are many fantastic aspects of OO that are going unnoticed while we engage in protracted hang-wringing about whose image OO will be made in. Or at least that is how it is starting to seem.

Submitted by lambert on

And the "divide" argument goes right back to what Dan says here:

One can believe both kinds of violence are wrong, and it is a mighty cynical kind of solidarity that requires those who believe in nonviolence to ignore those who practice violence. Silence equals approval. If you employ a tactic that you know goes against my deeply held beliefs, why is it my beliefs which must be suppressed? In that formulation, violence trumps nonviolence, because only the former is granted a full spectrum of expression.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

...thought you might enjoy the comments:

"A hooligan is a hooligan no matter what banner he's carrying."
16 hours ago · Like

"It's pretty disingenuous to characterize these folks as "violence advocates," when perhaps it's more about a different idea of what violence means and how our culture values capital over human life."
8 minutes ago · Like

"I find the term "hooligan" in the context of this particular issue to be a gross oversimplification of those who employ black bloc tactics as well as other protest strategies. While I believe that all are entitled to have and hold their own opinions, I find the derogatory nature of said comment to detract from those people I have met in various protest events who are particularly well educated and respectable good sumeritans who fight for yours, theirs, and all other american citizens' rights."

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

When you criticize specific strategies and link to actual video illustrating the point, VAs go to "well what is violence anyway? Who can say?" And how many anarchists can dance on the head of a pin?

Pretty soon they'll quoting William Blake. (Cf. okanogen's nailing jello to a wall comment above.)

Submitted by lambert on

Hate to use the words "stuck pig squeals" ....

And "if the boot fits" would probably be a little inflammatory.

Got a link on that page?

Submitted by Fran on

I have not had time to really comment, but wanted it known that I have been reading it and appreciate it.

To be non-violent does not mean to be meek. Many times, the person who can stay calm is more in charge of himself and of the situation.

Yes...... We won our country with violence. But, the Quakers would say that it could have been done without a war. I guess we will never know.

I am concerned about what will happen in Chicago, if this issue about tactics, is not resolved - and I don't think it will be resolved.

In Phila., there was a GA to decide whether to confront the police when they were going to be evicted. It was very cold and late into the night. I was there with a few people who were in their eighties and nineties. They could not stay until the vote. The ones who wanted a confrontation were glad we could not stay. They won the vote - but only to ultimately have that decision overturned by a subsequent GA. In a 'war', you have to consider strategy as well as tactics.

coyotecreek's picture
Submitted by coyotecreek on

This discussion is taking place in a peaceful, quiet environment where we can be intellectual and thoughtful about violence and the commitment - sometimes on paper - to non-violence.

But what about the Occupiers who are actually in the street? Fran's comments speaks from the perspective of a GA - but even that is not when the force of the police is in their faces.

As someone who totally supports the Occupation - and has been to a few of those and intends to go to Chicago - I am absolutely non-violent. But I will tell you that I go seriously nuts with anger when I see the police prepared for battle, attacking (that's what I think it is) peaceful protestors who are simply expressing their constitutional rights to free speech (is there such a thing anymore?)

I have not found myself in a position to respond physically to such force, but if my barcalounger anger is any indication, I might find myself acting out in a more "violent" (there are those quotations marks, again) manner.

It might be helpful overall if there was some news as to prosecutions or legal ramifications against the police and mayors who are enforcing these actions. Maybe then, those of us on the streets will view our NV as actually achieving something.

Submitted by lambert on

(Not minimizing, just only phrase I could think of.)

For example, the response to Scott Olsen could be thought of as the Port Closure. The response to the pepper spraying at UC Davis was universal ridicule for that policeman.

This metaphor is really mixed and not thought out but FWIW:

We have a dying [complex, non-linear] system. It's important to lance the particular pustule (prosecute the cops) but it's even more important that there are white blood cells coursing through the circulatory system that we can't even see. These don't necessarily contradict, but they can. Activist Soul in Dan's piece might be thought of as one of those white blood cells.

UPDATE And as far as the anger.... I'm angry a good deal of the time. But I also know that whenever I let my anger drive me, I make really, really bad decisions. Not 100% of the time, but way, way more often than not. I think that some others of us have the same... feeling.

affinis's picture
Submitted by affinis on

Comment at Kos.

Umm..."One" instance?

Tim Pool case:
Guardian story
when OccupyFreedomLA was livestreaming the #J28 Occupy Oakland building takeover attempt, she criticized throwing of objects by BB, pissing some off. Later that day, in the middle of a march, her camera was snatched.
Aimee Allison incident
Regarding some of the "snitch" threats against streamers:
Storify of some tweets

Graeber: [Pool] "was actively trying to get people arrested."
Pool was streaming what was occurring (whether actions by protesters or police). I guess Graeber's position is that streamers should only stream police misconduct. Let's all just be propaganda agents. As Bill W notes, Graeber's position nicely mirrors that of the state agents.