#OccupyOakland and the Power of the Black Bloc

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Corrente has a post up by Affinis on a potentially important, and troubling development at OccupyOakland, namely, the fact that the movement has a relatively small group within it that believes in the use of violence to achieve its ends. It numbers are roughly 200 members out of an estimated 7,000 to 40,000 that have participated in demonstrations. However, they have disproportionate influence on the decisions made at the General Assembly, since many of the Occupy participants are transient (as in participate in demonstrations only or only occasionally show up for GA) while the black bloc is a much bigger proportion of the group that stays overnight on a consistent basis.

Affinis give some insight into why this is view is being tolerated:

From postings by OO participants at various sites/forums, several lines of thought seem to be contributing to tolerance of black bloc. I see a lot of posts arguing that destruction of property is not violence – and this position seems common among certain anarchists, even if they’re not actively in agreement with use of black bloc tactics currently. Some are arguing that since this movement is nascent, now is not the time for violence since it would alienate the mainstream – but that they would support its use once events have advanced sufficiently. Others more fundamentally disagree with the use of violence/vandalism, but are not willing to oppose/condemn black bloc since that would be siding with the “enemy” over other protesters. I also see a lot of condemnation of those who intervened to stop black bloc vandalism on Wednesday (e.g. at Whole Foods) – they’re being referred to as “peace police”, and there seems to be particularly strong anger against those who tried to physically restrain or physically block the black bloc individuals (even some commenters who appear relatively unsupportive of black bloc are condemning “peace police” actions as coercive and as failing to respect “diversity of tactics”).

Some of the proposals passed at previous OO GA meetings seem to have opened the door to the events of early Thursday morning. See here for a list of decisions passed as of October 31. Number 4 on the list is “diversity of tactics”.

For example, during marches: when confronted by police, some people may want to attempt to have calm conversations with them, urging them to be non-violent. some people may want to sit down in front of lines of police. some people may want to express their anger by yelling at the police. some people may want to attempt to remove police barriers. some people may want to disrupt traffic or banks. some people may prefer to remain on the sidewalk. We should be tolerant of each other’s approaches and respect different forms of protest, while being aware of our privilege or lack of it, especially when engaging with the police.

So the coded idea is that if you are against destruction of property, you are aligning with those of privilege. This argument simply show a stunning ignorance of the lives of the 1%. Folks. the odds you can get at them via street level actions are pretty much nada, unless, like the driver of the hapless Archduke of Ferdinand, one happens to take a wrong turn. The people you are hurting are petit bourgious to maybe upper middle class. And when you hurt them, you are just as likely to hurt their workers, who if they are paid at typical wage rates, are much more peers than part of the problem. And what about the risk of loss of life, of, say, the smashing of a window cutting a big artery of a bystander? Stuff like this happens. It suggests that the this crowd isn’t just against the top 1%, the professed target of the movement, but that they are against the interests of the broad middle class, when in fact many see the pursuit of a just society, which includes reorienting the economy to serve a broad population rather than the needs of the few, as the overarching goal.

Affinis seems to agree:

It appears that the vast majority of people partipitating in Occupy Oakland events comdemn the black block actions. Tens of thousand participated in the demonstrations ….
But there appears to actually be a serious split among the core occupiers and in the general assembly regarding black bloc and use of violence/vandalism. I suppose this is not necessarily surprising. It makes sense that people who are able/willing to indefinately camp out under difficult conditions and constant threat of police raid, and those who are able/willing to consistently attend long GA meetings, may have different demographics and more radicalized beliefs than people who are more sporadically involved. I’ve seen this at prior occupations I’ve been involved in…

But we have a governance issue. Just as Washington is run by a political class, we may have a political class emerging at the Oakland GA that is not representing the interests of the broader movement. Yet thy are sufficiently influential as to prevent the Occupy Oakland GA from renouncing violence/vandalism as a tactic (it actually distanced itself from a media committee statement taking an anti-violence position).

More troubling, Affinis describes how they were successful in effectively recruiting other demonstrators to participate in an attack on Whole Foods, which was erroneously depicted as directing employees not to participate in the march after Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was critically injured. Note how this works: a few violent people, operating in isolation, are much easier to identify and be subdued. If they are in the front or midst of a large crowd, which by virtue of its size may not even know what they are doing, it becomes much harder for anyone other than the other demonstrators to stop them. That did happen at Whole Foods: some of the marchers did try to restrain the vandals, but the store was still damaged. And of course, the instigators hope to get others to join in their attacks.

This is obviously far more pernicious that outside infiltrators, who are allegedly a common feature of anti-globalism demonstrations, and are paid to pretend to be members of the movement and engage in destruction in order to discredit it. The reason the Occupations have captured the public imagination is in no small measure due to using non-violent strategies that have again and again proven to be effective, with Tahir Square and the indignacios in Spain the models for many of the Occupy practices. But Affinis tells us how one set of Occupy precepts, of inclusiveness, is being used to undermine what many would see as higher order principles.

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  1. RossK

    Meanwhile, up in the country formerly known as Canuckistan (left coast division), we are having our own difficulties with inclusivity given that it also leads to those that really, really need our help most to join in as well, unfortunately sometimes with very tragic results, indeed.


    1. NL

      I can believe this is even a debate. Not only b/c it’s right but b/c it’s the only thing that can work:

      1. OWS must repudiate all violence now, and get rid of all violent people. Don’t pretend you don’t know what violence is.

      2. If the black bloc are men and not all cops, let them work on their own and not hide behind OWS. Likely they’re all cops.

      3. If OWS won’t repudiate all violence, to hell with them.

  2. Vee Vo Vee

    Why are you bitching about a few smashed windows when people shut down the port of Oakland? Shutting down the port of Oakland was way more destructive to private property than a few broken windows.

      1. patricia

        Shutting the port for a day was thoughtful intention, right? People weary of “free-trade” and it’s resultant abuses on everything from foreign laborer to domestic laborer to the misuse of resources on shoddy products and wasting fuel by hauling goods across oceans and continents. The “destruction” caused by the day of closure was on those perpetuating this unsupportable system.

        The march was a loud shout by many responsible people who want this system to stop. TPTB haven’t heard other methods of dissent.

        The vandalizing of the shops was a different thing altogether. Some of it was rage out of control–vengeance not against culprits but against whoever happens to be there—in this case, small businesses which make up a structure we want to support. Likely there were also people involved who ascribe to a type of anarchy that celebrates destruction. Likely there were also some agents provacateurs. All three promote destruction for itself, plain and simple.

        How do we build a better democracy while at the same time allowing some among us to practice meaningless destruction? We can’t. That is why there’s “bitching”.

        You probably know this already. But since it is good to keep these fundamentals clear in our minds, thank you for bringing it up.

        1. jonboinAR

          I agree. Shutting down the Port of Oakland sounds like it was a thoughtful action, with meaning. It directs protest against one of the principal causes (at least many of us think so) of our unemployment problems. The attack on Whole Foods looks, on its face, more like what people fear in anarchist-type activity: random attacks against whomever is unluckiest to be too close, leading ultimately if left to continue to burning, looting and general destruction of the physical structure of our society. Some may think that there is nothing in our culture or society worth preserving, but most, I think, will disagree. Activity like that may very quickly cause OWS to marginalize itself.

          1. RanDomino

            Whole Foods is an extremely right-wing organization which uses anti-union propaganda against employees and fires those who try to organize, and which gives a great deal of money to conservative causes. The only reason they sell crappy health food to liberal yuppies is that there’s money in it. Whole Foods’ image is a total fabrication.

          2. Richard Kline

            So RanDomino, I certainly agree that Whole Foods is a contemptible organization, and that it’s 1%er proprietor is rather despicable.

            The more meaningful issues are: a) is smashing the windows of Whole Foods or any other corp a meaningful political act?, b) is that action endorsed by the Occupiers or Occupy Oakland as a whole?, and c) does that act accomplish anything more than the personal satisfaction/entertainment of the actors? My answers to those are: a) no, and who are you kidding?, b) very clearly NOT, and c) no, and we know who you are, kiddies. I suspect that most would agree with my conclusions.

            The Black Bloc gets far too much ink, but that is the nature of the media and of political actions themselves. They are the majority in no Zone of Occupation of which I’m aware, though present in most of them, and sharing some—though far from all—of the expressed goals of the Occupations. If you have spent any time in contact with the Blackers, and I have in passing, it is and inescapable conclusion that those who self-describe amongst them are personally incapable of acting in any social aggregate and significantly dysfunctional in other respects. They have a political patina upon personal needs, is what I’m saying. Definitely they speak for no one but themselves; I find it more useful to listen to others who have something to accomplish.

            There have always been hijackers in mass political movements, even aside from disagreements about tactics and strategy which are inherent. I think of them as the anti-1%. While they may (or may not) have actual political goals, and while those goals may or may not overlap with the goals of the larger activist community, the anti-1% really don’t give a damn about anyone _else’s_ goals BUT THEIR OWN. Since they can’t convince the activist community to follow those goals, the anti-1% seek to impose those goals by slapping their label on anything the rest do. I have to say that this unspeakable selfishness of the anti-1% is their defining characteristic. They are always a major organizational problem for inclusive activist movements, such as the Forward Movement of the Occupations.

            I’m supportive of the Occupiers physically and nonviolently interposing themselves between the anti-1% and property destruction if that property destruction (it isn’t violence, no) is done in any way in conjunction with an action or site of the Occupations. My position is simply that the larger group not only hasn’t consented to such property actions but in fact has explicitly opposed it. As such, the actions of the anti-1% are little different in effect than the actions of the police to clear Occupation sites since both of the latter kinds of conduct act against the political objectives of those in Occupation. Diversity of actions is fine. Minority rule by facts on the ground is not part of the Occupations anywhere that I’ve seen.

      2. lambert strether

        Here’s the link to the original post.

        * * *
        To answer the question:

        Well, that’s like asking “Why are you bitching [sic] about the forcible feeding of a few feminists when World War I is just around the corner”?

        The two are incommensurate.

        FWIW, I think that for the Occupations to succeed, “all walks of life” must be able to participate. For example, in Argentina, the government knew it was all up when the grandmothers came out in the streets. (This led to Argentina getting out from under the IMF, with happy results for the Argentinian 99%.) Vandalism/violence militate against that.

        This is a pragmatic, not a moral argument. For example, in Tahrir Square the Occupiers defended themselves from assault by the Bultigaya — but they were never seen as being “violent” because they had huge assets on the “good will” side of the balance sheet for being so non-violent beforehand. I’d be less concerned that such good will here would be dissipated if the idea that it was even seen as an asset. (The good will I care about is in the 99%, not the 1%.)

    1. redleg

      Why complain about Guantanamo? Both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were defeated…

      At this stage of the game, how it is played is more important than wins and losses. This is a PR battle, and the MSM is not on the side of the 99%. Any little misstep has the potential to turn public support into revulsion.

      In the event that there is a Lexington/Concord moment, then this becomes an actual battle and vandalism will be just as useless. Vandalism as both a tactic and a strategy is completely useless, if not detrimental.

    2. Walter Wit Man

      Agree as well.

      Where is the concern about the 10,000 protesters that were committing similar, if not more severe, property damage that day when they shut down the port? Did those people also deserve to have their spleens split and rubber bullets fired at them and attacked in a military style?

      In fact, since we live in a police state, the police have responded to this type of property crime (shutting down the port) with lethal and aggressive force (they claim it’s not lethal but it is). See here for a story about a 2003 port action: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2004/04/23/BAGJM69TRL1.DTL

      If the police would have started shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately into that crowd of 10,000 would the protesters also be responsible for “provoking” the police? If there were sensitive people there, say in a wheelchair or with breathing problems, or children, that would have been wounded in the police attack would it have been the protesters’ fault and not the authorities’ fault for the violence?

      Also, the Whole Foods incident and other vandalism occurred well before the action later that night to take over the property as well as well before the later action. These acts of vandalism can just as legitimately be associated with the “peaceful” march to the port as the action to take over the property. Afaik, there was some additional vandalism and building barricades and lighting them on fire later that night as the police assembled into military attack teams a few blocks away from the reclaimed property. You’ve seen the video of the police firing a bullet at someone recording them as they are lining up getting to break some skulls (in this case at least one spleen)(and where is mayor Quan’s investigation or arrest of the officer for attempted murder–you bet if a protester fired a rubber bullet at a cop he would be charged with attempted murder). If the police would have attacked the crowd of 10,000 using the same justification (Whole Foods and Wells Fargo and some banks had windows broken), would you also blame the protesters for the attack?

      The police are overwhelmingly responsible for the violence.

      1. Walter Wit Man

        That should read: “Also, the Whole Foods incident occurred well before the action later that night and it occurred in a different location.”

      2. lambert strether


        1. Well, of course the police are overwhelmingly responsible for the violence. So, when you were a teenager, didn’t one of your parents ever say, “Just because they’re doing it doesn’t make it right?”

        2. Since you are, presumably, an advocate of vandalism/violence — and if you are not, please explain why not — the burden is on you to show how how vandalism/violence forwards the Occupations. So please do!

        NOTE It seems to be a trope among the vandals that “You don’t care about the violence the state inflicts ZOMG!!!” But oddly, or not, the vandals seem not to have talking points that justify their tactics. Perhaps that’s because they can’t? Suppose the Black Bloc doubled its size and quadrupled its violence/vandalism. What’s the outcome?

        1. Walter Wit Man

          So you want to pigeon hole me into either the “supporting violence” camp or you want me to join the good guys and denounce the Black Bloc “violence”, eh? Meh. I decline judgment. I don’t give a fuck about Wells Fargo’s windows or Whole Foods’ windows. Why should I have to renounce petty acts of vandalism?

          Anyway, I do denounce violence. I’m outraged at the violence that was committed during the protests the other night and the last few weeks–99% of which was probably committed by the police. I have yet to see a single act of protester violence that I need to “denounce”, and even then they got a lot of cop spleens and skulls to bust before we can start leveling equal criticism towards the two groups.

          Violence is beating someone so hard their spleen busts open and then mocking the victim as he lays screaming in pain in a cell and refusing to treat the injuries. That’s violence. So is assembling in military units, using rubber bullets and grenades and other military weapons to attack people for committing property crimes that don’t hurt anyone else. That’s what gets me worked up a lot more than the fact that some Whole Foods liberal like Michael Moore has “concerns” and may not grace us with his presence and support (one could only wish) if Whole Foods has a window broken. Fuck the Whole Foods liberals. Let them and the Democrats take what they think is the high road. We are better off without them. OO is better of without them.

          If you must know I think it was probably a tactical mistake to takeover the building that night. But one can only know this in hindsight. People had legitimate reasons and it really was not that more militant than the actions earlier in the day. The main difference was the police response and the fact the protesters did not have the numbers, so the police were finally able to attack. The police, the media, and the politicians will always be looking to spin events to blame protesters for violence and it is an impossible standard to tell protesters not to provoke these people. The police were always going to find some excuse to beat the hell out of these people. Further repressions will continue as well.

          I will not add my voice justifying this police violence. I don’t want to waste any energy talking about these petty and politically motivated property crimes until the much more serious crimes of the 1% and their minions is dealt with. Especially the police violence that is directly related to the trumped up allegations of “violence” against the protesters. Even if property crimes are bad, responding with massive police violence is worse.

          1. lambert strether

            So, calling out stupid tactics is supporting the police? Because you surely imply, when you write “I will not add my voice justifying this police violence,” that this is what I’m doing. And what a steaming load that is. I’ve heard exactly that kind of tribalist rhetoric when the political parties fight, and I don’t think much of it; for one thing, it points right to “Same as the old boss.”

            You also write:

            If you must know I think it was probably a tactical mistake to takeover the building that night

            Which is pretty funny. Apparently it’s OK for you to take issue with tactics, but not others!

            Personally, I think taking over the building is great. Occupying unused buildings for the sake of the homeless, for example, could be of great material benefit to many, especially if it can scale out across the country.

            The “mistake” wasn’t seizing the building; the mistake was the vandalism that went along with it.

          2. Richard Kline

            So Walter, and now we get to it. It’s the ‘impurity’ of those putative ‘Whole Foods liberals’ and ‘Michael Moore[s]’ which stick in your craw. No one else’s motivations and values are ‘good enough’ if they don’t meet your criteria. So of course a little smash-and-dash is acceptable because, after all, ‘those folks’ are ‘impure.’ By your standards.

            We didn’t nominate you as a judge, Walter.

            The actions of those who want to hijack by smash-and-dash and using the opportunity of mass presence to spit on police reflect on others. I don’t hear you or the actors, taking responsibility for that. The lack of accountability and express personal indiscipline in your remarks and their action are really the striking features presented, to me. You are accountable to no one but the judge of all. That’s the anti-1%, in action.

            In addition, as does lambert, I find your inability to think strategically about your actions, and about your larger activism, really self-defeating, and an impediment to anyone else who might want to or is working for some change. And I’ll add that personally I find that perspective quite puerile and unspeakably selfish.

          3. Walter Wit Man

            You got me! I gave my opinion on the tactics. But do you notice the way I shared my opinion?

            I have an opinion but I’m not going to say I know better than the protesters or that it wasn’t the right decision to make at the time and I’m especially not going to turn them over to the police or try to kick them out of anything. I formed my opinion in hindsight by reading and thinking about it after a couple of days here. The takeover of the building was just as militant as the port shutdown, which you appear to support. Why do you support one action, while the other so clearly crosses the line that it earns your condemnation?

            If the police would have fired military weapons into the crowds at the port, as they had done in the past, to enforce these property crimes, the protesters would have been responsible for provoking the police, no? What’s the difference? They knew the police did it in the past and they were “provoking” them, by breaking these property laws, with lots of sensitive people around.

            But yea, on the tactics I agree that having a few thousand more people and shutting down the port was a more effective action. But what if it was only 100 people? Would they have been foolish and would you have denounced them for being “violent” if the police attacked? What if the port closure continued through the night and only few dozen protesters remained (I thought it did go to the next day but the media seemed to have a blackout on this information and I’m unclear on the time line here)? Would you have denounced them for their tactics?

            Most protesters are provoking the police by committing different levels of property crimes and engaging in civil disobedience. I’m not going to get into the naming and shaming business and running interference for the police by second guessing protesters. Who am I to say the militancy during the day was okay but not the militancy at night?

        2. Walter Wit Man

          To play devil’s advocate, the benefits of committing certain acts of vandalism are:

          1. It shows us who the real allies are. Not that I needed it, but seeing Michael Moore and the Democrats (and others) knee-jerk response makes me even more certain that the Democrats and progressives in general are hopelessly corrupted. I’m sick of the status quo in American politics. I don’t want liberals to have to prove how tough they are by being even more tough on crime than the GOP. Or being even greater warmongers than the GOP to prove how tough they are. This feels very similar to me–as if it’s a mass propaganda campaign, led by the Democrats and liberals, to shun the left-wing in this country in yet another effort to prove to middle America how great they are. But it never works. The shunning and shaming is not based on a proportionate level of blame. The right wing always gets a pass. Here, cops are getting passes for there massive violence yet we’re debating petty vandalism as if it’s the crime of the century. It’s a rigged system designed to purge the left and it is instructive for me to see which liberals instinctively start purging when push comes to shove.

          Plus the optics are good. To have Michael Moore type liberal Democrats using violence to defend not a person, but Whole Foods, is rich.

          2. It’s cathartic to break shit and express anger. I remember working at a hotel and my teenage coworkers and I would love breaking the fluorescent bulbs in the dumpsters. It’s got a good sound. Plus, most people don’t like banks and don’t like the power they have so I bet a lot of people get a thrill out of it, even if they subsequently “denounce” it. It’s a way of getting back at the biggest bully on the block, even if it is largely only an annoyance.

          3. It shows the absolutely fascist police state we live in. The police have engaged in massively disproportionate force and violated a number of laws. They have come very close to killing a number of people and have seriously wounded many people. All in the name of enforcing property and loitering laws, etc.

          4. It riles people up. Good and bad. We apparently are a good example because you appear to have gotten riled up by protester vandalism and I’m riled up by the policing of the protests. Anyway, when a smaller political force is facing a much larger one sometimes riling people up can jump start change.

          I can’t really think of any other justifications on the top of my head but I know they’re out there so you may want to look harder rather than simply assuming it’s mindless violence, or something.

          1. Walter Wit Man

            Ah, I see what you did there! I was playing devil’s advocate, not revealing to you my personal choices, and you used it as a cheap shot to once again imply that I personally support violence. There is more evidence of you supporting violence in this thread than me (my devil’s advocacy here being the sole exception).

            I thought you were sincere in trying to hear arguments supporting vandalism and yet all you appear to be doing is trying to take cheap shots and trap people into your label of supporting mindless violence.

            Regarding the pleasure of breaking shit . . . I was explaining the feeling one probably has when one engages in the act and I also imagine there is a real pleasure in hitting a symbolic target of one’s hatred. I have never personally experienced that. Some people hit objects to relieve stress like a punching bag. I also imagine there is some voyeurism on the part of people that don’t like the banks and like seeing bank windows get smashed. I didn’t say I personally feel that way. Again, I was having an academic argument you claimed you wanted (and no one seemed interested in defending the devil) but you used the first opportunity to falsely portray me as an advocate of “violence” (but I think you really meant “vandalism”).

          2. Christophe

            Walter, you really should try thinking. Not toying around with various configurations of ideas floating about outside yourself, but introspecting, maturing, coming to awareness. Having opinions is delightful and very narcissistically satisfying. It is also a necessary developmental stage on the way to objective thought, but it precedes thinking and becomes a subjective cul-de-sac when viewed as an end to itself.

            When multiple commenters question your capacity for tactical and strategic thinking, point out the puerile and selfish nature of your arguments, and rebut your rhetoric; you might take their comments as an opportunity for introspection. A first step in doing so would be to try to view yourself as these others have explicitly stated that they do. Of course, all the while granting their opinions of you as much validity as your own. Not nearly as narcissistically satisfying as your current habits but in the end far more challenging and delightful.

            The great enemy to thinking is not thoughtlessness (we all have far too many thoughts already); it is laziness, as in clinging to comfortable but outgrown habits. Whenever you want to close by lazily ascribing your responsibilities to others, such as “I can’t really think of any other justifications on the top of my head but I know they’re out there so you may want to look harder,” resist that habitual urge. And one last gem for your introspective gaze to ponder – “you may want to look harder rather than simply assuming it’s mindless” could easily be projection on your part.

          3. Walter Wit Man

            Okay, I’ve now reflected on the fact that three people, Lambert, Mr. Kline, and you, Christophe, have all basically called me childish (and kudos to those who used the big word puerile–points deducted for Lambert for pulling out the “only a six year old. . . “).

            But why am I puerile? Because I won’t denounce and shame vandalism as a tactic? Because I don’t see things your way? Is that why I’m childish? I get that my opinion really bothers you guys. I have strong feelings about this too–I have a strong distaste for the knee jerk shaming liberals are engaging in and I think this is providing a justification for greater state violence. I actually think my approach is more sophisticated than your approach . . . I’m not saying go out and break windows or that it was an awesome idea . . .

            And how is that selfish? I shouldn’t be so selfish and instead I should agree with you?

            I am not the Black Bloc, as much as you want me to be. Sorry to disappoint. But I care less about petty acts of vandalism than I do the fact we have out of control fascist police forces that have a license to kill citizens for misdemeanor property crimes! And a good section of the population is cheering it on–they want these people beaten and shot. And now we have liberals spending an inordinate amount of time shaming kids committing misdemeanor vandalism and missing an opportunity to highlight the out of control police tactics in this country. Here’s a good article on the militarization of the police: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/cops-with-machine-guns-how-the-war-on-terror-has-militarized-the-police/248047/

            Childish. Sheesh.

          4. Christophe

            Don’t worry, Walter, introspection is a personal choice, and no one else can force you to begin. It will always be an option you can return to if defensiveness and aggression cease to serve the insulating function they currently appear to do.

          5. Walter Wit Man


            I’m willing to be introspective.

            You just have to give me more to work with. Calling me childish isn’t an attempt to inform me of my bias or my analytical shortcomings nor is it a rebuttal to my argument–it’s an epithet.

            So you’re going to have to explain how my position is childish. I know you think breaking windows is childish. I get it. I’m playing devil’s advocate above because I’m interested in what you guys claim to be interested in, a discussion of different tactics. But you’re not really interested in that, as this part of the thread shows. You guys are focused on my point #2 above and that’s all you can see (oh the dreaded nihilism) . . . and I’m admitting that the base emotion of smashing shit probably motivates the vandal and some of those that view the vandal. It’s probably not the sole motivation. I don’t know if it’s a “childish” act because it’s partly motivated by a cathartic emotion from breaking property.

  3. Brad

    I have to wonder why your reaction to a few broken windows is so much more powerful than your reaction to the continuing violence perpetrated by societies that maintain prisons, executions, wars, condone homelessness, bankruptcy from health care costs, and allow companies that kill workers and pollute the world to continue giving bonuses and dodging taxes.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This is not about a reaction to broken windows. It would have gone further had some of the others restrained the people who were breaking windws.

      This is about embracing violence as a tactic.

      I find it revealing you chose to what is pretty close to straw manning and a bona fide personal attack, rather than engage the argument. Do you really think breaking windows does bupkis to ruffle the 1%? As I said, you are really kidding yourself if you think they are the ones you are hurting. This is the sort of pitting the lower orders against themselves they try to incite via infiltrators in other movements. It’s SO much easier if violent elements save them the bother.

      It is one thing to resort to violence when other means have been exhausted. That is simply not the case here. The public is only beginning to be roused from its torpor.

      1. RanDomino

        Vandalism is not violence. If you’re worried about what “the public” might think, that’s a different argument entirely.

        1. aet

          It is violence if the vandals have to go through someone trying to stop them to “doing their thing”.

          Americans are trained to violence.

          But vandalism is barbaric, by definition.

          And what’s next? Will those who would use any type of violent action in their attempt to “change things” action seek to compete in the efficient organization of violence – as the armies of the world have ever done?

          Once “effective” violence is initiated – against people OR their property, that is, property which the owners consider valuable – it becomes very very tough to limit. See the recent history of Iraq for an example of what violence is all about:


          Has violence ever helped before? When?

          The problem IS the the USA is TOO VIOLENT IN ALL THINGS.

          Give them a little taste of the slightest bit of success in the necessary use of defensive violence, after being attacked in WW 2 by people actually thought violence was the answer – Tojo and Hitler – and American bigwigs think that they have discovered that violence IS the answer to every little problem they mat face under the sun…and American people have well learned those tragically mistaken lessons “trickling down” through their mass media’s relentless glorification and praise of organized US State violence in the seventy years which have elapsed since.

          So much so, that Americans now consider military spending to be the ONLY necessary expenditure of a State, the only LEGITIMATE use of taxes collected.

          America reacted to the attack at its overseas possession, Pearl Harbor, like a body reacts after exposure to a virus – and seventy years later, long after that reaction to the virus has had its beneficial effects at protection, that continuing reaction – endless and bottomless military spending (which is spending on organized violence), now at a rate of 2000 million $$ – 2 billion dollars a day (an understatement of what a trillion – a thousand billion – dollar a year military budget actually spends) – has itself become the biggest obstacle to the USA b enjoying ANY time at peace.

          How would the USA do, if three or four CENTURIES of peace were to come? How long can they keep the military d spend going in a peaceful world?

          SO….they start wars…..and violence is a solution for common people in their disputes which each other?

          What kind of governance is that?
          Bad governance.

          End the violence: the war is over. Unless you, yourself, decide to keep it going.

          1. RanDomino

            People engaging in property damage didn’t “go through” anyone. People trying to stop them, however, repeatedly did blatantly violent things like try to tackle them and hit them with chairs, while chanting “Peaceful protest!”

        2. jonboinAR

          >> Vandalism is not violence.

          I wish you’d explain that. It sounds to me like one of those “distinction without a difference” things, or a nuance that the general public, viewing through lenses provided by the MSM, will not notice at all. IMO, the peacefulness of the OWS protests so far has provided a great deal of its attractiveness to the general public. That attractiveness emphasizes their major causes, which I believe is the point of the movement overall.

          Breaking windows and other acts of, violence, vandalism, whatever you choose to call it, they’re just a bunch of DFH’s to many if not most of those who THEY NEED to become their allies if they’re to have any long term effectiveness.

          1. Maju

            I think he means that destruction of objects, specially those belonging to the rich and powerful, is not violence like beating a person or shooting rubber bullets is. And (s)he is mostly right: it’s not the same in any way you can compare.

            However it projects the wrong message about the movement: instead of one open to all, the movement of the People, it is one closed, open only to those who share certain codes, codes that include going around smashing things: yobs, hooligans, vandals… in other words, not your usual worker, not even your usual revolutionary in fact.

      2. Walter Wit Man

        From what I’ve seen the “peaceful” protesters that attempted to tackle and otherwise use violence to stop the vandalism were not that effective. I think this is wishful thinking.

        People are mad. Rightfully so.

        I have no love for liberals that use violence to protect Whole Foods and Wells Fargo from vandalism that hurts no one. The only people that are seriously hurting other people with no justification are the bullies with guns and badges indiscriminately beating people up and firing military weapons at unarmed people that are not a threat to anyone else.

        If I see someone throwing an egg at my house can I shoot him?

      3. flower

        “Contrary to much popular opinion and hyperbole that posits it as simply chaos, violence and disorder, anarchism is an ideological and theoretical position that rejects not only the a priori legitimacy regularly conferred upon the state, but all externally imposed hierarchy (Graeber 2004a). This entails a rejection of all forms of hierarchy and authority that cannot be legitimized, justified and consented to by those impacted by them.”


        My understanding is that violence is used because the anarchists using it believe that the current system is so compromised that no dialog is possible.

        1. Walter Wit Man

          But in this case, the “violent” [sic] Black Bloc protesters were simply vandalizing. They weren’t hurting anyone or even committing violence! At all, as far as I’ve seen.

          In fact, it was the “non-violent” [sic] protesters that tried to stop the property crimes by using violence–the Whole Foods liberals. The Black Bloc people disengaged from the violent Whole Foods liberals (and I’ve seen other places where the so-called non-violent advocates were puffing their chests out about how scared the skinny hipsters were of the Whole Foods liberals . . . but I saw it as the anarchists deescalating the conflict and preventing violence rather than simple cowardice). It shows how non-violent the Black Bloc actually was that day–they were attacked by fellow protesters and they still remained non-violent.

          1. Maju

            Actually damaging property may be nonviolent… assuming that the perpetrators do it openly and assuming the consequences of their actions. We have done it often here in the context of antimilitarist struggles: painting military headquarters, openly demolishing their walls

            What makes this “demolition” nonviolent is that the actors assumed the responsibility for their actions, were arrested, had trial… and secured photos in the press (no masks).

            Also it’s silly to oppose violence and nonviolence and to think of nonviolence as a mere negative of violence.

            But destroying property as such is not particularly violent. Violence is about hurting people (or animals): for example by denying them medical assistance, food, shelter, basic rights… or by charging against them with batons and rubber-coated bullets.

            Said that, diverting the protest towards rather gratuitous and ill-thought attacks against property, which may be whatever but certainly are not nonviolent (as the perpetrators do not assume their responsibility towards anyone, not even the movement) is irresponsible. And irresponsible people are hooligans, not revolutionaries.

    2. R Foreman

      It’s going to be hard to control the backlash to those injustices. If we can achieve our goals without violence, then we should.

      My fear is that when demands finally do emerge from Occupy, they’re going to seem so shocking to the establishment, the 1%, that violence will naturally follow on both sides.

      I suspect demands such as disgorging bailout monies, moving away from interest-bearing debt-based money to some other more equitable system, ‘end the Fed’, all will be pretty much non-starters.

      The 1% have grown quite accustomed to being royalty, manipulating government, expecting others to spend their entire lives working and making payments to them. I honestly don’t see how that’s going to change in a peaceful manner.

    3. jonboinAR

      The Breaking Windows Incident, as some have mentioned above, is alarming because it’s perfectly liable to cause revulsion among the general public just when the very thoughtful and deliberate anarchy of OWS, a desription many would have considered oxymoronic previously, had begun making it quite attractive to the same public. Ms Smith’s alarmed reaction is completely appropriate, IMO. If incidents such as the BWI continue, OWS can very quickly become not just irrelevant, but destructive to its own cause.

      1. Walter Wit Man

        It’s a typical reaction, but not appropriate. You are entitled to your feelings, as is Yves, and I understand why people get so upset with broken windows. But it is not an “appropriate” reaction, afaic. In my mind there is a better reaction. To place the blame almost entirely on the police and appeal to our fellow Americans to end this police state. An armed military unit attacked a group of unarmed political protesters because they committed a relatively few acts of vandalism (especially compared to London or Spain or Greece).

        The concern trolling reaction imposes and promotes an unjust standard. No large street level protest group can possibly meet the high standards set by those in the lefty blog world for its peculiar definition of “non violent” in the face of one of the most violent governments on earth.

        Plus, is so insanely disproportionate. If you had to assign a numerical value to the comparative fault of the “Black Bloc” and the police, what would it be?

        For me it is almost 99% the fault of the police. Why are they moving on the protesters in large military formations and firing weapons at them? This itself is a terribly hostile act.

        1. lambert strether

          How unfortunate that people’s reactions are “inappropriate”!

          And you propose to change their minds how? Presumably, as a vandalism/violence advocate — and if you are not, please explain why you are not– you propose to induce them to have an “appropriate” reaction by doing more of what they already regard as “inappropriate”? How does that work?

          1. Walter Wit Man

            Well, I too was uncomfortable with the “appropriate” word. As I said, you’re entitled to your feelings. It’s appropriate to feel outraged or disgusted or want to shame window breakers and vandals.

            I just think that the energy expended on shaming them or questioning their tactics does more harm than good.

    4. lambert strether

      Er, no, you don’t have to wonder at all. But do feel free!

      One reason might be that non-violence advocates want the Occupations to succeed, for all the reasons you state, and regard the egoboo of heaving a rock through a Whole Foods window as less important than making sure “all walks of life” can participate.

  4. Maju

    This is a fascinating debate. As someone with roots in the strategically nonviolent antimilitarist movement, and of libertarian communist (roughly “anarchist”) ideas, I should be able to say something that makes sense. Here I have seen also people show disdain for the “indignados” movement for not being violent enough, as if nonviolence would be a waste of time. Yet, as you say well, it is nonviolence what, at least for now, can attract the people at the margins, adding to numbers and expanding the consciousness of rebellion and the act of it.

    I am not nonviolent as a matter of principle: self-defense, individual or collective, is an unquestionable right (and it is probably as such that violence gets its greatest legitimacy). Nonviolence is not a duty but a choice – and a hard one, because it implies that you are collectively willing to behave as a saint while your foe beats the hell out of you, maybe even kills you. Patience has a limit and therefore defensive or reactive violence is understandable, specially once nonviolence has been repeatedly crushed by the violence of the regime.

    But violence for the sake of it is mere fetishism: instead of being intelligent and coherent, instead of gathering forces such activists divide them. Also I feel that it is not too honorable to hide in the mass of nonviolent protesters when you are acting violently: you should really organize your own distinct protest and assume the consequences of your actions, of your fetishism and of your self-generated marginality. Finally I’d suspect that these groups are penetrated by police (because it’s so obvious that they act against the interest of the whole!)

    Personally I’d break their knees in the name of “microviolence”: violence adequate to the needs of the moment. Sometimes that means to break the knees of those trying to bring the movement to a cul de sac and favoring the interests of the police and the oligarchy with their thoughtless actions.

    That does not mean I am against violence as such: defensive violence is legit and maybe even offensive one in certain circumstances but breaking a movement from inside just because of fetishism of violence and lack of ideas is a treason to that movement and deserves retaliation. Naturally, nothing of this would happen if the so-called “black block” (once and again demonstrated everywhere to be made up of undercover cops and some fools) would respect the internal democracy of the movement and submit to what the majority wants.

    Get ready for “action” maybe but do not shoot too fast. The time will come probably (hope to be wrong) when nothing but violence would be available. But while you can fight with other means, means that can have much greater social and political effect, use them.

      1. aet

        When it comes to violence, the US Government is ALWAYS the winner. Every time.

        They understand violence much much better than you do. From long training and experience of it.

        So much so, that peace and pacifism confuses them, the poor dears….

        In times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself.

    1. Joe Rebholz

      If we should “win” by using violence as a tactic, we will have lost because the society resulting from a violent revolution will still be violent. Violence has got to go. It is a significant cause of the present world mess. Viol;ent tactics, violent strategy, violent anything is not a revolution. It would just be more of the same. It would produce no progress. It will strangle our revolutionary baby in it’s crib. Resort to violence would be a huge tactical and strategic mistake and will lead to total failure.

      1. Walter Wit Man

        You make it seem like the protesters were firing guns at the police. How many police officers have broken spleens? How many have bullet wounds? How many have broken skulls because of grenades being thrown?

        Breaking a window is not the same as using violence against a person. There are many levels of civil disobedience. In fact, that day thousands of people were committing property crimes and other crimes by marching to the port. Millions of dollars were at stake and in the past the police have said this is sufficient justification to use violence.

        So these protesters blocking the port were also “violent”, to use your logic. The deserved to be shot and have their spleens and skulls split open. Or at least the general public should ignore these whiny attention seeking provocateurs, right?

    2. lambert strether

      Yes, well said. From the 30,000 foot level, it’s clear there’s a huge ferment of political work and writing and thinking going on all over the country. Completely under the radar of course, since our famously free press won’t cover it.

      And anarchism is a thread here, for sure. It seems to me quite clear that the people’s mic, consensus-based decision making, the general assembly, and a whole toolkit of techniques are propagating and that this is good. The Occupations serve as national schools. But I don’t think anybody should accept anything uncritically, and that goes for vandalism/violence techniques too, and their justifications — to the extent any justification other then “they do it too” is proffered.

  5. Kevin Egan

    I’m not sure who Brad is talking to–it can’t be to Yves Smith, who has been fighting the good fight against exactly those outrages for many years now. Better clarify your pronouns, Brad.

    I have a strong reaction to broken windows myself, so let me explain it: militant non-violence is the most powerful agent of social change we know about. It ended British rule in India, Jim Crow in the South, and apartheid in South Africa. No other method of social change has a record like that: you can topple a government or a regime more quickly with violence, but the change won’t last, and you usually just replace the old boss with the new boss. And many people will probably die–sometimes millions, as in Russia and China.

    The oligarchs fear militant non-violence more than anything, and rightly so. That’s why they hire violent provocateurs to infiltrate and try to discredit non-violent movements in the eyes of the public. That’s a bad enough problem, but it is even more distressing to see this breaking out within OWS; even though it’s understandable and very predictable.

    But if you really care about changing our society, you ought to stick with the strategy that has the best chance to do that.

    1. sleeper

      Ah. Violence how sweet thou song.

      No doubt that there are people on bth sides for whom violence satisfies. Clearly both the authorities and the protestors have factions who wish to use violence. I’m reminded of the Black Panther statement that violence is American as apple pie.

      But really with an armed populace, billions of rounds of ammo, and many millions of firearms is this the best path right now ? Best leave Pandora’s box closed for now.

      1. lambert strether

        Or you could attack your enemy at their strongest point. That’s certainly permitted by “diversity of tactics,” and has a great track record of success, especially when you’re outgunned and outnumbered. Oh, wait…

    2. shekissesfrogs

      @Kevin Egan, you have fallen for propaganda.
      Not that I agree with vandalism, but I’ll correct your understanding of history a bit.

      Where non violence works is to get your neighbors on your side: your kith and kin.
      It doesn’t work against people that hate you because of race, or class. There has to be a connection.

      Much like the 1%, soldiers in a foreign nation tasked with colonial occupation, stealing their heritage requires adopting a mentality of hatred towards the other/enemy or they cant look the other way at suffering and do the killing.

      Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India wrote “During my talk with Winston he burst out with: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

      FDR flat out told Churchill he was leaving India, along with all the rest of the British occupations.
      Also, India wasn’t non-violent. They had non violent and non violent movements.
      It was but for National pride on the part of Britain they focus on the peaceful Gandhi because the making of voluntary withdrawal requires it. The indian National Army was threatening them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_independence_movement#Revolutionary_activities

      Jim Crow in the South..

      Frederick Douglass had some things to say about this and it wasn’t pacifistic. “”Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

      Apartheid in South Africa

      Have you ever heard of the ANC? How about Necklacing? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necklacing
      without the threat of violence the whites would have never made a deal to let Mandela out of prison – not that the SA blacks are free now, the suffer from terrible poverty from imposed neoliberalism.

      1. Foppe

        Let’s put it a slightly different way, then: In a society easily influenced by arguments that “protestors are vandalists”, and where protesting against economic inequality is normally seen as inherently illegitimate (American Dream), it is very dangerous for your public image if you give the media the possibility to picture a movement this way.. Once the population already knows not to trust the media, or once a movement can get its own account of what’s going on, or why they’re acting in the way that they do, out in a reliable and timely manner — the ANC was already a very widespread phenomenon, with far more broadly based (logistical) support than OWS — violence is less of a problem.. But for that to be possible, you first need legitimacy, or at least a strong enough base to be able to keep going until you gain that broader support.

        1. aet

          Bullets and blows have never changed anybody’s mind.

          And they aren’t going to magically start doing so now.

          What they do do, is change people’s feelings. For the worse – and on all sides too.

          Violence is only a “solution” to those who enjoy violence for itself. For those who seek joyful battle for its own sake. Those who enjoy “glory” or “victory”, or the feelings of power it brings.

          Useless for most of us, who don’t enjoy violence.

          The ONLY expression not to be tolerated – is intolerance.

          The ONLY thing which is to be met with violence – is violence.

          And for the US Media, the “our forces of law and order” NEVER EVER start the violence – only respond to it, or to the threat of it.

          At least, so their story goes.

          That isn’t news that’s fit to print.

      2. Kevin Egan

        The history of revolutions is not a particularly good topic for comment posts: tons of exceptions for every generalization, tons of generalizations from every particular noted. Lumpers and splitters staring at each other across a virtual void.

        Let me just say this: you’re a lumper when you’re supporting your position, and a splitter when you attack mine. That’s inconsistent.

        Lumping: “[non-violence] doesn’t work against people that hate you because of race, or class.”

        A red herring argument.

        True, it probably didn’t change Bull Connors’ opinion of MLK: but that was not the opinion MLK was trying to change. He manifestly succeeded with the audiences he was trying to reach: read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail and its remarks on white moderates.

        Same point re Churchill’s opinion of Indians: unimportant in the scheme of things. Nor do I think that Gandhi’s movement was a *sufficient* cause of independence–in this situation particularly, a host of other factors were in play, especially the end of war, economic exhaustion of the empire, and yes, the prospect of endless local armed uprisings. But I think that Gandhi was a *necessary* component, and his moral prestige was a crucial determinant for the realpolitik-driven reactions of the rest of the world.

        Lastly, for the rest of the world, Mandela’s prison sentence was seen as heroic non-violent resistance, and the legitimacy of that endurance by him led directly to the economic boycotts and the divestiture movements: those are what led most directly to the end of apartheid. Again, not sufficient, but necessary, and the impulse behind non-violence also led to the Truth and Reconciliation concept: as bad as things are in SA, I think they could have been much, much worse.

        Nothing is simple, not even militant non-violence. But there are a lot of reasons why attacking the American empire by breaking the windows at Whole Foods and throwing rocks at cops is a fool’s game–and a provocateur’s.

  6. selise

    it is violent property damage and vandalism to take down the fence, stack it neatly and reoccupy public space?

    i don’t think so.

    was it violent property damage and vandalism for the cantonsville nine to take hundreds of draft files from the cantonsville draft board and burned them in the parking lot with homemade napalm?

    no. it was not! the berrigan brothers and those who were with them were committed nonviolence activists (nonviolence is very different than pacifism).

    another example is the long history of the plowshares movement. from wikipedia:


    “On September 9, 1980, Daniel Berrigan, his brother Philip Berrigan, and six others (the “Plowshares Eight”) began the Plowshares Movement under the premise of beating swords to ploughshares.[1] They trespassed onto the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where they damaged nuclear warhead nose cones and poured blood onto documents and files. They were arrested and charged with more than ten different felony and misdemeanor counts. On April 10, 1990, after 10 years of appeals, the Berrigans’ group was re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison.[1] Their legal battle was re-created in Emile de Antonio’s 1982 film In the King of Prussia,[2] which starred Martin Sheen and featured appearances by the Plowshares Eight as themselves.[3]

    “Other actions followed. As of 2000, some 71 such actions happened on several continents, sharing these elements: 1. absolutely nonviolent to people, 2. each actor claimed personal responsibility for her or his actions, never fleeing the scene but rather standing accountable, 3. making some effort, big or small, real or symbolic, to turn swords into plowshares. There have been several more such actions in the new millennium.

    “On April 30, 2008, three Plowshares activists entered the GCSB Waihopai base near Blenheim, New Zealand and vandalized a government installation, causing $1.2 million in damages. In March 2010 the three men stood trial by jury at the District Court in Wellington and were acquitted.[5]
    On November 2, 2009, a Plowshares action took place in the U.S. at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where Trident nuclear weapons are stored or deployed on Trident submarines.[6] These weapons constitute the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the US.[7]”

    ….. it doesn’t take going back more than 200 years to original tea party to make the case that actions should be judged individually and in context.

    property destruction and/or vandalism is not always the same thing as violence.

    i will condemn individual actions that seem to me immoral. and that is all i will condemn.

  7. citizendave

    Inclusion is fine for many things, but not for all things. There are behaviors civilized society will not condone or tolerate. For example, this evening (Nov 7 around midnight CDT US) via twitter, Nicholas Kristoff said he was with Somaly Mam raiding a brothel in Cambodia to free children who were kept as slaves. People of conscience must draw a line somewhere.

    There should be no place for violence or vandalism in the Occupy movement. #OWS should be steadfastly pacific, non-violent. To be resolutely peaceful is to take and hold the moral high ground. To include those who advocate violence is to be no better than the system we oppose.

    When a large crowd resorts to violent tactics, with participants in the OWS movement present, the only way to distance ourselves from those who refuse to be non-violent is to make it clear, day after day, at every opportunity, that we are strictly non-violent, following the traditions of Gandhi, MLK, and others.

    After I returned home from the war, I was discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector. They challenged my belief with what I call “the conscientious objector’s dilemma”. It went something like this: “…What would it take to get you to commit a violent act? Suppose an evil person is holding your mother, or sister, or wife, or child, or the person you love most in the world. You have a clear shot, and you could resolve the situation and save the one you love. Would you, an avowed pacifist, take the shot?” You could spend a lifetime dwelling on that dilemma.

    Violence will not serve our purpose. What we need is new thinking — intellect, compassion, imagination, innovation. We know more people are going to die because they can’t afford the medical care they need. We know millions are in dire straits. But we must remain above the fray. We must be resolute. We must remain peaceful.

    1. lambert strether

      That link has nothing to do with Tahrir Square. So why not compare Occupy to Tahrir Square? The Egyptians out-organized the regime’s thugs, the baltigaya. I’d argue they had the space and time to do that exactly because of their non-violent tactics, which (a) enabled all walks of life to enter the Square, and (b) split the regime off from the Army.

      Then again, how would that weigh in the balance, compared to the egoboo of breaking whatever the Egyptian equivalent of a Whole Foods video might be!

  8. Eureka Springs

    I am not yet convinced the small portion of black bloc peeps who did go for violence against the larger majority of their own organizations will at the time… that this small portion might not be paid provocateurs. It certainly seems like a ripe area for someone with some cash to buy a few idiots.

    That said, I don’t blame OO for refusing to take a stance. And I sure think the violence OWS is standing up against is far more ghastly… from needless wars to no health care, no jobs, no homes, no justice and on and on.

  9. psychohistorian

    I read the following posting today and it made me think such that I have a different reaction to this posting than I would have had:


    One quote from a quote within the posting
    “Also, as one sharp strapping ready for whatever you got youngblood recently put it, “I ain’t about to go get arrested with some muhfuhkuhs who just figured out yesterday that this shit ain’t right.”?

    I absolutely have no use for violence but can’t close my eyes to its ongoing existence all around us…How many people did America kill today around the world in wars we know about and those we don’t?

    When you create a dog eat dog culture that glorifies such behavior, violence is a natural part of the competition. Hopefully we can change that.

  10. K

    As an Oakland native and a participant in OO events, I have plenty of strong opinions on this, but I’d like to start with a plea: Could we please, PLEASE, not use “black” as a code descriptor for the dangerous, violent faction? This is Oakland folks-racism is a living breathing entity that touches everything in this city. It is not okay to equate blackness with violence, or otherness, or fringe radical whatever whatever whatever. Even if other commentators are using the term, we don’t have to fall into that trap. If nothing else, avoid it because it will immediately alienate a lot of nonviolent folks who are giving their heart to OO right now.

    1. Rex

      I hear ya. When I saw the title with ‘Black Bloc’ in it, I wasn’t sure what it was about until I extracted the meaning from the context. Not sure if the subset of vandals gave themselves that name or if someone applied it because they seem to have a style sense that requires black hooded clothes and black masks while they are tearing shit up.

      I agree that using black to label them seems a specious and divisive ploy, especially in Oakland. How about giving them an acronym? I propose YADET(s) – Young Assholes Driven by Excess Testosterone.

      No matter what we call them, I don’t think they are doing much except to irritate most people. They have all the moral rationality of soccer hooligans — my team lost so I’ll go tear some shit up. Or, my job sucks and my boss is an asshole so I’ll go out Friday, pick a fight, and kick someone’s ass.

      If some think this is helping, please do more thinking and less helping.

    2. Lloyd

      Sorry K, this name has been around for decades and it is going to stick. These folks typically wear a uniform of black: black hoodies, black jeans, waving black flags, etc. They believe only in their own autonomous authority, denying the legitimacy of any state apparatus. They reject any social action that would rely on state institutions. For this reason they have no interest in bank regulation, or constitutional amendments against corporate personhood, or jail time for white-collar criminals, or tax reform, because those would all require some kind of state agency. They are essentially absolutist, rejecting alliances that might dilute their sense of autonomy. They establish rank among their peers by engaging in symbolic acts of rage and defiance. They are essentially parasites, feeding opportunistically on the dynamism of progressive social movements to inflate the significance of their melodramatic posturing.

      1. aet

        Gee – don’t several police forces wear black uniforms now? They used to favour deep blue, but the SWAT culture changed that.

        As a matter of fact, the police are now equipped like Army Regiments across the US, aren’t they?

        Must be nice to have such steady and rich public funding, while everybody else must make do with less.

      2. aet

        They reject all law.
        They are anarchists, and they are very useful to have around for the State-power absolutists, for those who would have you “give up a little bit of freedom for better security”.

        They are idiots and criminals, and we saw this ‘anarchist action’ before during the reign of the Czars….led to a progrom or two, if I remember correctly, as it seemed that those “Anarchists” were all from one or two ethnic groups.

        The Law cares not what you profess to believe – the Law cares, or ought to care, only about your conduct.
        And these “anarchists” don’t want anyone to tell them what to do – even if it’s only to stop killing people, or destroying or taking their property.

        The appearance of these “anarchists” is part of the crackdown. They ARE all about “the State”, aren’t they? they refuse to give their names – or name those they attack.

        Violence is the problem. And these guys are violent.


        1. shekissesfrogs

          It’s not the whole anarchist movement that were destructive during the reign of the czars. Those were the nihilists.

          The ows movement is anarchist in that it doesn’t have a leader, or the leaders rotate so that the authority doesn’t become vertical. A leading light: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Graeber

    3. Lidia

      The tradition of black blocking grew out of the autonomen movements in Germany in the 1980s; Autonomen wore black during militant action in the process of squat defenses, and during solidarity-demonstrations for the Red Army Faction. One explanation for the Autonomen’s clothing choice is that black was the color of the leather jackets that squatters wore for warmth and to deflect blows from police batons, whereas ski masks were practical ways to filter out tear gas and to protect one’s identity. They were dubbed by the German media as “der schwarze Block”. The tradition was first seen in the United States of America during protests against the Gulf War in Iraq, February 1991 where it was initiated by Love and Rage, a North American revolutionary anarchist organization. Black as a color has historically been associated with anarchism, dating back to the black flags which accompanied bread riots at the time leading up to the Paris Commune.


    4. Anonymous

      I think a better solution would be to stop referring to people ethnically with color names like, ‘black,’ and, ‘white.’ Besides being inaccurate, they sound infantile and dumb.

      But that’s a larger, different discussion, and I take your point that it’s something to be particularly watchful of in Oakland, not to mention the rest of the US.

    5. CaitlinO

      I agree. As a resident of Oakland in the oh so turbulent 60’s, Black Bloc is a really unhelpful terminology.

      The violent protestors, as I understand it, wore similar dark-colored garb. Can we call them Ninjas or something?

      1. lambert strether

        Part of me wants to make up a cute snarky name… At which [lambert blushes modestly] I’m not without skill.

        But I don’t want to do that any more. Better to try to “take what you like and leave the rest.” The GA and consensus-based decision making are also, IIRC, from the anarchist tradition. So perhaps I will try to surrender a little bit of verbal violence as well.

    6. Walter Wit Man

      Your plea for people to police their language would be a lot more convincing if you didn’t use hyperbolic language like “violence” to describe such actions as occupying a building, painting graffiti, and breaking windows. And let’s get a sense of proportion here. One would think the “Black Bloc” started busing cop spleens and shooting rubber bullets at them. No, they damaged windows owned by corporations, not people. Even if one could somehow characterize this as “violence”, it is nothing compared to police violence. Why are some only ‘concerned’ about the much lessor violence of the less powerful antagonist while they give the much more violent and powerful antagonist a free pass?

      1. jonboinAR

        We’re afraid that the distinction between “violence” and “vandalism” will be lost in how the media portays this to the general public whom is their audience. As this general public’s endorsement is critical to the long term success of OWS’s objectives, your distinction is irrelevant to this argument, IMO.

        1. Walter Wit Man


          You’re playing a game you will never win. It’s rigged against you.

          It’s even worse than that. The concern trolling merely works to provide an excuse to the police. The FBI and other secret services have already increased its surveillance and harassment of leftist activists. Now that the Whole Foods liberals and Democrats are volunteering to hunt down subversives in their midst for the high crimes of vandalism, it won’t be too far before the authorities will be able to take even more severe tactics against what remains of the activist left. Of course the Whole Foods liberals will blame the leftists for the increasing fascism–after all, skulls had to be cracked because bank windows were being broken!

        2. Walter Wit Man

          To show you real violence, and to show you why it is futile to win the media war, look at this incident that happened that night:

          “Kayvan Sabehgi, a Second Veteran Seriously Injured

          A second veteran has now been seriously injured by the police on November 2nd. This time it was Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Kayvan Sabehgi whose spleen was ruptured due to a brutal beating by cops. He told the Guardian Newspaper from his hospital bed:

          “There was a group of police in front of me. They told me to move, but I was like: ‘Move to where?’ There was nowhere to move. Then they lined up in front of me. I was talking to one of them, saying ‘Why are you doing this?’ when one moved forward and hit me in my arm and legs and back with his baton. Then three or four cops tackled me and arrested me.”

          According to Kayvan Sabehgi he was simply walking up 14th street alone and walking away from the protests at the time he was arrested and beaten.

          There was a militant protest taking place on a different street, but that was all the way over on 16th street. That protest attempted to take over an empty building that formerly housed the Traveler’s Aid Society of Oakland, an agency that provided assistance to the homeless before it was shut down due to budget cuts. Protesters occupied the building trying to take it over as a place for people to sleep as the weather gets colder and to bring attention to the government’s austerity that has taken place. They were also attempting to bring attention to the fact that wealthy landlords are keeping buildings empty while the unemployed and underemployed are being driven out into the streets to sleep.

          The protesters were, however, attacked by hundreds of cops with flashbang grenades, tear gas, and bean bag guns. After being driven out of the building by the cops the protesters built a barricade on Broadway and lit it on fire. A man in his 50s or 60s was shot in the leg by the cops and injured.

          After his arrest and brutal beating, Kayvan Sabehgi was not given medical attention for his ruptured spleen. Instead of medical attention, an unqualified jail nurse gave him a wrong diagnoses and tried to give him a suppository, which he refused. Throwing up, suffering diarrhea, and unable to walk, Kayvan Sabehgi was allowed to crawl to another toilet to try to use it, but it was clogged. After suffering for many hours in his cell, his bail was paid at noon the next day, but Kayvan was unable to get up and leave. The police response? They simply closed his cell door on him; once again denying him needed medical attention. An additional six hours passed before the police finally called an ambulance at 6 PM.”


          The media barely reported this, and when they did they barely pointed out the allegations of torture by the police. Not only did the police attack and rupture this man’s spleen, but they tortured him and mocked him after wards.

          Yet the media spent 10 times as much time and attention on the “violence of breaking Wells Fargo bank windows. Whole Foods liberals are not going to win the PR battle by concern trolling for vandalism while they ignore the other antagonists that have actually seriously hurt people, not property.

          1. JR

            It’s interesting that you use the term “concern trolling,” because you seem to be taking up an AWFUL lot of space and continue to not get that people don’t like breaking things. It makes me wonder who is the troll.

          2. Walter Wit Man

            I’m astounded you can’t get past the broken windows.

            You don’t seem to get that there was a violent confrontation that night, between antagonists, resulting in multiple injuries. It’s amazing to me that some simply want to point to the broken windows and legitimize it as a pretext and are ignoring the much worse actions the police engaged in. In fact, how ironic is it the police beat and tortured another war vet on the very night of the protest commemorating the last war vet the police nearly killed?

            The police then tortured this man. Mocked him and denied him care as he lay dying. And you want to give me lectures about broken windows.

            Furthermore, this attack occurred after the police shot a bullet at a videographer to make sure their beatings wouldn’t be recorded. The last time the port was shutdown the police attacked with bullets and grenades and tear gas and they were ready with the same this time. A federal judge is in receivership of the City’s police because of brutal tactics and out of control cops. There have been no indictments or even investigations of these recent police attacks. If a black bloc kid shot a rubber bullet at the police he would be charged with attempted murder.

            I’m astounded people evidently think breaking windows gives the police an excuse to militarily attack protesters who are threatening no one with violence.

          3. Skippy

            “I’m astounded people evidently think breaking windows gives the police an excuse to militarily attack protesters who are threatening no one with violence.”


            If that’s what you got out of the hole conversation, the cognitive bias is blinding.

  11. Middle Seaman

    Of the three heroes of the 20th century, Gandhi, MLK and Mandela, the first two were nonviolent while the third headed a violent uprising. Is the OWS movement a nonviolent movement? So far it has been, but the big question was never really addressed nationally (nor many other issues).

    The cities facing OWS are are by and large violent. They are practically wall to wall confronting OWS with force and are meager on negotiation. Even Oakland with its liberal major has done little talking. (Oakland also has a white criminal police with a long criminal record.) The stark exception is Washington DC where the local political class has basically said “you are welcome.”

    In summary, violence is part of OWS due the political class. It will be unnatural not to find in kind reaction within OWS.

    The fight has only started; it is difficult to see the 1% affected soon with or without violence. We don’t know how victory can be achieved.

  12. vlade

    Ah… It seems that we’re finally catching on that 99% is actually rather dispersed, and tends to have fairly views of not only what, but also how it should be achieved.

    If the movement fractures along those lines (and, historically, any and all movements fractured), it’s going to be very important how and where for it survival and efficiency.

    On one hand, if the non-violent protesters will spend time fighting (yes, the irony of it) the violent ones, only the 1% (well, in fact, it’s more like 0.1%) will profit. On the other hand, if the violent part wins the day, the 99% slogan will be doomed, and again 0.1% will win.

    I’m also rather curious that I haven’t seen any (what I would consider practical) discursons on how the change might happen.
    And when I say practical, I mean looking at the various options (including, say, violent revolution), and how they might play out in real (as in violent revolutions tend to end up elsewhere then the originators intenteded. For avoidance of doubt, I’d consider US “Revolution” a secession movement rather than revolution, and there’s a huge difference).

    Another option may be that each OWS can run an independent candidate for house/senate. That’s how quite a few Tea Partyist got in (despite party opposition), so the view that running requires a lot of money can and should be challenged – it requires a lot of commitment. Those 10s of thousands people could be more productive by canvassing and making sure that neither Democrat or Republican gets elected next time (now, that would put fear of God into politicians – much more than a protest).

    1. Maju

      The only conceivable revolution pattern is the creation of radically democratic class institutions in opposition to those of the bourgeoisie, eventually taking their role as managers of society and the economy. The soviet model (or something like that) but without the totalitarian role of the Bolshevik Party and with a much more mature and all-encompassing Working Class – we live in a different period: the disciplinary social model is not useful anymore: it collapsed in the 1960s or 1970s (also the Russian revolution was largely a peasant one performing as bourgeois revolution of sorts, same for China, Vietnam, Cuba…).

      That’s how I conceive the revolutionary process, which is yet too immature to be completed (but it’s maturing quickly: I look ahead to the end of this very decade): modeled on the Paris Commune and the Soviets (and the anarchists communes as well) but going well beyond them both in democracy and in socialization of the economy and ecology.

      This is very important: a mere year ago nothing of this was imaginable, specially not in the USA… but it’s just a beginning. There will be a flow-back and in this flow-back the foundations for a second more powerful revolutionary episode or process will be set.

        1. Maju

          Sure: I’m quite anarchist. Not mainline in any case but I have been affiliated twice to CNT, for example. However I consider myself more like Autonomist, in part because I consider the split between Marxists and Anarchists obsolete and inadequate to the needs of the class struggle today (keep the Stalinists under careful watch however: those are quasi-fascist dangerous thugs, as shown in Greece recently).

    1. Rex

      Ah, a British freelance writer and political activist beats the drum with words like this…

      “A word on violence. By which we seem to mean, as far as I can discern, not violence but vandalism. And not arbitrary vandalism either. The targets accumulatively read like a sort of summarial revenge against the worst excesses foisted upon us by capitalist society…”

      The YADETs in Oakland have gone right for the jugular: a Starbucks, a Whole Foods Market, assorted graffiti tagging of random buildings, occupying an empty former Travelers Aid building, burning some dumpsters. Great! These are certainly representatives of, “the worst excesses foisted upon us by capitalist society.” We must be thankful that we have these young brave soldiers out fighting unnecessary battles and giving the real problematic people and organizations some obvious targets to discredit and to divert from the real issues.

  13. Pied Cow

    I agree that vandalism and random violence serve only to hurt the interests of the protestors, and, by extension, to advance the interests of the privileged.

    It is a far, far, better thing to go directly at the interests of the elite.

    Shutting down a seaport without resorting to violence is an excellent example of how to achieve a meaningful result.

  14. carping demon

    We went through all this in the ’60s. Culturally, a few things changed: a little progress was made for women; a little more progress was made for LGBTs; segregation was assailed and Jim Crow was driven tentatively into hiding; public speech was freed up a little (I remember hearing “Blowing in the Wind” and even “The Universal Soldier” on commercial AM radio); attitudes towards a Southeast Asian war were actively changed, leading to its end a few years later; and the idea of “multiculturalism” insinuated itself into all of the above. Millions gathered, joined, moved, protested, infiltrated and agitated, marched, armed, rioted, broke and burned, beat, murdered, and pontificated. This all came at the height of the post war boom, good times. When the boom was over, it started to leave: women out of the kitchen now, working two jobs while being vilified in commercial music, on the internet and glancing at clothes hangers again; integration is actively resisted, albeit often with budgetary excuses, and Jim Crow is poking around the polling places again; free speech, having lost its protectors in the courts, and apparently in the minds of many Americans, is disappearing rapidly (waited through the lines at an airport lately? be careful what you say); multiculturalism is still alive and kicking, so long as it doesn’t include Islam, with whom we’ve been fighting two wars for ten years and are preparing a third; the president can have you killed (believe it or not) without saying why, and nobody’s singing even a whispered version of “Masters of War” in public.

    And that’s the point.

    With all that money around-that may sound strange to people whose real incomes have been stagnant or declining for the last thirty years, but there was plenty back then. Post war growth gave wage earners money to spend. So much that any nascent movement could easily be co-opted and turned to profit by media, music, movies, clubs, publishing, retail and advertising, all of which, naturally, had to be financed. It happened to all the passionate causes, partly because it was fun, but mostly because they didn’t realize that they were fighting the wrong battles. The disparate causes were deflected by the rich and eschewed by the upper middle class–those with enough resources to keep growing. The fourth quintile shrank. And shrinks. And the bottom three sank, and sink. There is only one war, and that is class war, and fifty years ago it was right in front of us, but we looked away.

    It is starkly before us again. Class war is not like Viet Nam, or WWII, or the French Revolution. It is a big, long, war. The economic system is a world system, and the war will have to be fought everywhere. In America, we have the advantage to start out without an inherited natural aristocracy, or a national church. The upper class has only one strength. Money. It cannot invoke right, logic, theory, education or respect. It has only what it can buy which is pretty much everything, except you and me. A world class war could begin in the United States. The inspiration of the Occupy Movement lies, and if it continues will lie, in the demonstration that the upper class will no longer be meekly accepted. When Blankfein says he does God’s work, we laugh. When Dimon whines about “constant vilification” we say, “Awwww, pobrecito.” Ridicule and true hearted disrespect can defeat any enemy, if applied openly, and persistently. When the other classes no longer accept the upper class as the legitimate leader of a society that can only include all of us, there will be change. Unfortunately, we cannot predict what the change will be, or when it will come. But nothing positive will be achieved until the upper class understands that we understand that they are nothing other than looters.

    So. What protesters actually do in any particular event, is relatively unimportant. Just like it was unimportant in the ’60s whether you were a feminist, or a Black Panther, or a college pol or a freak; whether you picketed with the Teamsters or against the Teamsters, it was all beside the point. We were all struggling against different enemies, and our differing approaches, adamantly held, as to how we should execute our particular struggle, kept us from seeing that we were all fighting the same enemy.

    If the Occupy Movement can manage to keep an ever brightening light on the iniquitous chasm between the upper class and the rest of us, something will happen.

    1. Maju

      Hmmm… It’s indeed the unfinished, barely outlined “revolution” of the 60s. But the 60s were different in two crucial aspects:

      1. They were the apogee of Keynesian Capitalism with near full employment, welfare and all that: it was a prosperous time in fact, not at all like now, and a time when prosperity was at least somewhat distributed downwards (because of the USSR and fear of revolution in general).

      2. Then it was the beginning of Toyotism, of the social worker of the finished stage of Capitalism (real subsumption of Work into Capital in Marx’ posthumous words)… now, 40+ years later (almost half a century, all my life), it is the end of that period of Capitalist apogee and there is no plan B, nor C nor any sort of plan,: we look at the future and can only see absolute vacuum. The No Future of the Punks has achieved a notorious materiality in form of no income, no welfare, no jobs, no demand… not even a pretense of seriousness by the political and economical leaders who just laugh on our sad and angry faces.

      So it’s linked to the 60s indeed but it’s also very different: then solutions were in many cases “optional”, now they are extremely necessary.

      Class war is persistent (as long as classes exist) BUT it has sudden flashes of acceleration. You say it is “not like Vietnam” but Vietnam was part of the class war, as was China, Cuba, Russia and so many other revolutionary processes. And they happened as accelerated change in short periods of time.

      Rather than happened… they were made. Because revolutions do not just happen: they are made by actual people.

    1. Maju

      Cops, yes. There may be naive people among them but some are cops and secret agents working as ‘agent provocateurs’ for sure.

  15. JTFaraday

    “So the coded idea is that if you are against destruction of property”

    It’s not about property. It’s about their fellow protesters.

    While we can certainly see that the police will attack when not provoked, it is also the case that the police will overreact to escalating disorder/ outright aggression, and in overreacting, attack those who are not responsible for the escalation–including those who choose not to escalate.

    So, these self-professed “anarchists” need to understand that it’s not a matter of each “individual” protester’s “choice,” but a matter of how their individual actions impact the group.

    Cloaking hard reality in “diversity of tactics” is bullsh*t.

    Consequently, the group has every right to weigh in on their actions, ask them to respect the consensus decision, and eventually evict them if necessary.

    On the other hand, protesters who preach non-violence should recognize that mass action tends to eventuate in people losing their tempers. It’s part of the nature of the beast.

    Although, it doesn’t sound like that’s what we’re dealing with here. Here we seem to have a group of people eager to place acting on their anti-property ideology over, it seems, the democratic consensus process, and over the need to protect the safety of everyone in the group.

    I have to say that I think one of the reasons the public supported the original group in NY is not *merely* the pepper spraying of the young women, but the way that the protesters as a group were so supportive of *each other.*

    It served as a really important, and emotional, reminder of the importance of community in a population under stress and it made the public want to do their share in supporting them as well.

    So, yes, I really do think the “anti-property” and “individualist uber alles” ideologues in Oakland can be required to consider their impact on the larger political movement they joined.

    Perhaps some of them need to ask themselves if they really want to be a part of that.

    David Graeber did mention that the “hard-core anarchists” in NY had the opportunity to join OWS early on in the process and build the movement, but they had limited interest:

    Most of New York’s grumpier hard-core anarchists refused to join in, and mocked us from the sidelines as reformist; meanwhile, the more open, “small-a” anarchists, who had been largely responsible for organizing the facilitation and trainings, battled the verticals in the group to ensure that we did not institute anything that could become a formal leadership structure, such as police liaisons or marshals.”


    1. JTFaraday

      “Others more fundamentally disagree with the use of violence/vandalism, but are not willing to oppose/condemn black bloc since that would be siding with the “enemy” over other protesters.”

      Opposing violence/vandalism isn’t “siding with the enemy.”

      Siding with the enemy is giving the police an excuse– that most of the public will support– to attack protesters who have NOT chosen to have the group escalate into violence.

    2. BondsOfSteel

      “It’s not about property. It’s about their fellow protesters.”

      Nicly said. I saw first hand how vandalism can turn to violence in the Seattle WTO riots. The small group that started the problems escaped unharmed, but the peacefull protesters got whalloped.

      This is a great way to fragment and end the movement…. sic the police on the majority.

  16. andrew hartman

    whatever good the OWS movement might have generated is being pissed away
    by the basic fatuousness of lefties in general. it will all be a grimy memory
    by christmas.

    meanwhile, corzine lawyers up.

  17. DC Native

    Violence and property destruction will only alienate the general public. Since modern street protest is essentially a PR strategy (i.e., to win more folks to your side in order to effect change), you do a disservice to your cause by making your movement look like an aimless bunch of violent hoodlums.

    Also, as others have said, OWS needs to branch out a bit. This is the 21st century and Citigroup doesn’t give a damn if you deface an ATM machine. If you want to fight back against the corporate state, you need to hit them where it hurts. And that will take quite a bit more thought, and no violence at all.

    1. BDBlue

      You will have violence regardless of whether people break windows. The crackdown by Oakland police was way more violent than anything done by the protestors. If the elites want violence, they’ll get it.

      And if all you’re trying to do is a PR strategy, then everyone might as well go home. The media will never give you good coverage and the elite don’t care what you think anyway. Only be inflicting pain on the elite – like shutting down the port – can the protests have an effect. Now, I think that pain can be inflicted in a non-violent way, assuming you consider shutting down ports and similar actions non-violent, but the goal has to be more than good NYT stories

      1. CaitlinO

        That’s why I’m in favor of a debt strike. All the reports of banks desperately trying to keep customers from closing accounts this weekend indicate that they are definitely beginning to get nervous.

        Convincing hundreds of thousands to a million people who normally, cooperatively send in their checks every month to withhold one month’s worth of debt payments will hit them right in the pocketbooks, the only vulnerable part of their anatomies.

  18. BDBlue

    I would recommend the comments at Corrente and at this Ian Welsh post by Che Pasa (although almost all of the comments at Ian Welsh’s place are worth reading in addition to the Corrente thread).

    As I understand it, Oakland has a long history of radicalism. I doubt it’s a coincidence that the place where Occupy has inflicted the most economic damage on the elites (shutting down the port) is also the one that has a more radical faction using Black Bloc tactics. The left loves to purge the radicals from its midst to show how reasonable it is and appeal to the mainstream. But without the radicals, the middle tends to go squishy. Think of the labor unions purging the communists – made them more compliant and did nothing to actually appease the right. The right almost never does this. They use the threat of their radicals to make the rest of their agenda seem acceptable. That’s not unheard of on the left – the threat of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, et al, made MLK’s non-violent movement look awfully reasonable. But mostly we like to form circular firing squads.

    I would prefer OO have shut down the port and not have had a group go off breaking windows. I also recognize given the level of violence OO has faced from police that if the worst that can be said of OO is that a break off group broke a few windows, then I’d say that OO is doing pretty well.

    I think Che Pasa is right and that the debate over Black Bloc tactics – which has gone on for decades, if not all of human history (albeit by another name) – isn’t going to be resolved any time soon and it’s unlikely that any one “side” will win. Indeed, it’s not even clear to me that the people who are decrying Black Bloc tactics really disapprove of them in their entirety since many of those denouncing the breaking of windows are cheering not only the takeover of the port, but the takeover of the Travel Aid building, the latter of which almost certainly also involved “vandalism” to get into the building. I doubt it was left unlocked. And I believe such takeover was also an example of Black Bloc tactics.

    1. Pepe

      Yeah – instead of trying to oust the black bloc, use them as a wedge. “If you don’t deal with us, you’ll have to deal with them.”

      The putative Left doesn’t even realize how well it has been conditioned.

  19. Jesse

    “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.” – MLK

  20. Howard L

    Targeted vandalism is a legitimate tactic. I remember reading somewhere that the destruction of tea in the Boston Harbor was a noble event. The tea was privately owned by the JP Morgan of it’s day, the East India Co.

    The valid use of violence as a tactic is an incredibly complex issue, but to be a purist and restrict all actions to non violent resistance is too limiting.

    1. vlade

      Indeed. But the use of violence must be seen “legitimate”. Of course, by that I don’t mean within the current law – but supportable and supported by those in whose name the violence is commited.

      Take London riots. While looting department stores was condemned, what really got people going was mindless looting of small businesses, and violence against people protecting their own property. That was most definitely NOT seen as legitimate by just about anyone.
      Indeed, given how the looting was going on (trying the shoes before taking the right pair), it was all seen as thuggery as oppposed to “legitimate” violence.

      All of the above made the London riots, with piles of violence, having absolutely no political impact (and if any, it was strenghtening of the protesters=rioters=thugs). Compare that with OWS or, again, to stay in the UK, St. Paul’s occupation, which brought in Anglican church on the side of the protestors. That’s a no mean achievement.

  21. Brian Dominick

    I’m really glad to see this discussion on Naked Capitalism. As someone who has spent years interacting with the Black Bloc as a street medic at most of the last decade’s biggest demonstrations in the US and Canada, I can attest that there is much more to the tactic and its proponents than meets the eye. These aren’t the violent automatons many people might think they are. And to their credit, in many ways they’re far more dynamic and often better informed than the typical peaceful protester.

    Still, while I don’t care about property per se, and I have friends among the Black Bloc, and having given first aid to countless of them in the streets, I’ve never really been able to muster consistent sympathy for their tactics. Once in a while they engage in a tactic that allows other demonstrators to perform better, like tearing down a police barricade and chasing the cops off so peaceful demonstrators can get closer to a target. (I saw this at the 2000 Inauguration of GW Bush, where the Black Bloc enabled protesters to get close enough to be seen in footage of the motorcade.) But usually, they cause more problems than they could ever hope to address, including putting peaceful protesters in danger unnecessarily.

    That said, movements will eat themselves alive trying to grapple with this issue. And I have to say, it’s strange to see people advocating physical restraint of property destroyers as somehow “nonviolent”. That’s just not logical. Encouraging this kind of conflict in the streets will backfire, especially when the Bloc is infiltrated by police agents, who will have no qualms with really getting into it.

    We should keep the “restraining” activities to discussion forums. In the streets, restraining people engaged in mob mentality is a recipe for disaster. (This goes for police, etc, restraining peaceful protesters, who are also operating on a mob mentality of sorts.)

    What I’d really like to see is a movement that gets away from these traditional forms of protest altogether. This in turn would shut down the Black Bloc’s main venue of misbehavior: the protest spectacle. I suspect that half of the impetus for the relatively chaotic action of the Black Bloc is the lack of tactical sanity on the part of the 99% of demonstrators who stand/shuffle around doing essentially nothing.

    Yves, you’re right to note that smashing windows doesn’t affect the one percent. But then, let’s face it, marching around peacefully does not affect them either. Let’s be consistent in our rejection of the naivete of social movements. Shutting down a seaport or engaging in a general strike makes way more sense in terms of striking at the capitalists. Going back to our neighborhoods and organizing alternatives to the dominant system is also a better contribution than standing or walking around holding a sign and chanting cliches.

    1. Joe Rebholz

      “What I’d really like to see is a movement that gets away from these traditional forms of protest altogether.”

      If a revolution is changing people’s minds, then how do protest marches — with or without vandalism — do that? How effective are they? What seems to be most effective is the OWS movement in its totality — all the information spreading in the various general assemblies (general assemblies are mind changing processes for all the participants and for those following on the internet). THe OWS movement is spreading knowledge about how to organize and develop the revolution. It’s a process, a model of how a non-violent revolution might be carried out. Protests are so 20th century. Thoughtful creative actions organized through the internet like taking your money out of the big banks have the potential to directly affect the systems we must change. The process of convincing people to participate in such actions already changes their minds towards the revolutionary goals and non-violent methods. Violence is counter productive. It should be avoided in every possible way.

  22. Gnat Burns

    Diversity in tactics, nice euphemism! Maybe it’s unavoidable in a state that’s this repressive. But it’s fairer to the peaceniks if you keep recourse to forcible rebellion at arm’s length. The militants have an obligation to split off. That’s better for OPSEC anyway.

    1. RanDomino

      There were three simultaneous marches in Oakland last Wednesday. This was only part of the Anti-capitalist march.

    2. Gnat Burns

      Great. But more separation might be needed later on, like Sinn Féin from IRA, because any and all activists can be subject to militarized SWAT home invasions and stunts like that. The state has already used that against antiwar activists, on ridiculous pretexts, and a spectrum of tactics will certainly be seized on by this state to escalate its CCPR-illegal rights derogation and repression.

  23. Steve

    I’m not a fan of window smashing. Really. I think its dumb, and alarming to the wrong people (fellow protesters, workers in the establishments, viewers at home..). But some context is needed. This movement started in the bay area, with the Occupy Berkeley strike in 2009. At the time, Adbusters supported the action, in a way (they disparaged the demand for no tuition increases). Then Adbusters offered up Occupy Wall Street as a toned down version of the same, successfully taking it to the masses. Then Occupy Oakland started. Right off the bat, everyone paying attention (practically no one) could see this would be a more radical Occupy than the rest, because of the seedbed of a persistent radical culture in the area. Occupy Oakland’s confrontations when the police came to clear them were particularly explosive when compared to everywhere else for the same reason. It responded with a call for a general strike. What a contrast to every other city! Here in New York, the home of Wall Street, we still aren’t getting a simple call to try to shut down the finance industry for even an hour (see the confusing call to action for November 17–are we going to shut them down or not? I read through it and I don’t know). I don’t like the property destruction at Whole Foods at all, putting aside that the rumor about not allowing workers to participate in the strike was false. Why not just lead 500 protesters into the store, and be loud and disruptive until the place was closed? Wouldn’t that have been more disruptive and focused? The late night action involved an effort to take over an empty building. This is a highly relevant gesture, as winter is coming everywhere and sleeping outside is increasingly untenable. But the failure of this action–the building was unoccupied by the police, notwithstanding the fires, broken windows, etc. suggests different tactics should be used. Probably a thousand or more people should be present when buildings are taken over, and a positive media spectacle (involving kids, or old people, or veterans, etc) should be unleashed to disarm the prospect of a violent police response. But the issue of building takeovers is now on the agenda, and that is a good. My point is certainly not to glorify window breaking. Its just looked at as a whole, its clear that the radical culture in the bay area has made a highly significant contribution to this movement locally and nationally, and should be treated with respect as equals, rather than as cretinous interlopers.
    As for Egypt, are you serious? Demonstrators violently fought with cops. There was also destruction of homes in wealthy neighborhoods. And lets not start with Syria, where over 100 security personnel have been killed by protesters. Its a lot easier in theory than in practice to carry out a policy of only supporting non-violence.

    1. RanDomino

      When the Egyptians defended themselves against police (and won), they were considered heroes by most of us, although the pacifism-fetishists and liberals were noticeably mum. Every police station in Cairo was burned to the ground!

      1. vlade

        Again, “legitimate” vs “illegitimate” violence – see above for my comment on that.

        legit violence will not lose you support (indeed, it can strenghten it). ilegit one will lose you support – and, more importantly, since you introduced violence into the play, will legitimise violence of the other side (which, until then might have been the illegitimate, support-losing one).

          1. Vlade

            The only realistic chance of getting rid of one not-so-tinpot-dictator about 70 odd years ago was violence. Lots of it unfortunately.
            Which of course doesn’t mean it should be used as first or second resort. I don’t expect human race to become saints anytime soon so violence is going to be with us for some time yet. If I was to make bet whether violence or poverty will be eradicated sooner I’d say poverty by a wide margin.

            “if we had the atom bomb we would have used it against the British” ghandi, June 16 1946

      2. Maju

        It’s not an easy comparison. Remember that the ‘black block’ is not fighting police, much less in a defensive reactive manner, nor has (yet?) the support of huge sectors of society as the Egyptian masses had (there was no black block there: it was something quite spontaneous).

        The perception of tyranny and oppression in Egypt, with arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial executions, systematic torture… is not what exists (yet?) in the USA or most of Europe. It is the violence of the system which justifies the violence of the people: remember that all this is propaganda and agitation in a sense (by both sides) and there is no perception of institutional violence that justifies protesters’ violence yet (much less the kind of histrionic pointless and emotional vandalism we have witnessed).

        There is probably a time for violence but violence is not the backbone of any revolution, just a manifestation. The backbone of any revolution is forging consciousness (opening eyes and minds) and grassroots organization.

        A fetishism of violence as some manifest even here (quite unexpected) is a terrible self-destructive error and a clear sing of immaturity.

        1. Joe Rebholz

          “There is probably a time for violence …”

          If we want to get rid of or minimize violence in our societies and cultures, when should we start?

          1. Maju

            I’m just saying that popular violence at some point is surely unavoidable. But first the violence of the regime must be obvious to most, otherwise it will fail as so many “urban guerrillas” have failed before. It is very difficult to “morally” challenge the state (specially a “democratic” state) in the terrain of the monopoly of violence. Time may come and you and I and everyone will know when it comes, no worries – no hurry either.

            Propaganda by action? Indeed. Does that action need to be fire and broken glasses? Dead bodies maybe? Or rather something like people self-organizing, stopping harbors and industries, creating a parallel system that challenges the bourgeois regime? I’m for the latter. I think that only the latter can actually work.

            The militarization of the popular struggle (through the emphasis of violence) is not just an image problem (that also) but specially a democracy problem because military commandos cannot have a grassroots democratic organization. This militarization of the class war also helps police infiltration and manipulation. So better no unless it’s unavoidable.

  24. Septeus7

    Anarchists are always and everywhere police agents or dupes. Look at the history.

    Every time a populist starts gaining political influence the oligarchy sends in the anarchist to start a riot and discredit the movement.

    Why do anarchist paradoxically always act in the interest of the oligarchy? Because Anarchist share the same contempt for the rules of society and morality claiming they are just hierarchical constructs that must be destroyed.

    Anarchism the is most oxymoronic concept ever envisioned.

    If Occupy Wall Street doesn’t deal with these idiots like they would soccer hooligans then the movement will have zero chances to changing anything.

    Forget this openness crap. You can’t be open to hooligans and police agents.

    Now on this issue of how you increase pressure on the power without violence. Easy. You make them afraid. You don’t do this with acts of vandalism which actually empower the police and helps turn the public toward the side of police violence.

    You simply to show up with a loud and angry crowd outside the every place or work or estate or the government officers until they can’t bear it.

    Protesting in the Street was a good start but know you need to the faces of the Congress critters and make them more afraid of you than greedy for the Wall Street’s money.

    Mic Checking Gov. Walker has good start but we need large group doing it again and again. You want to be in their business so much that they can’t show their face in public. You shame them until they break and yield to your demands.

    “Power concedes nothing, without a demand” Fredrick Douglas.

    There’s no need for violence just pressure. Constant unrelenting pressure.

    1. Steve

      Without anarchists, this movement would not exist. Period. And the oligarchs don’t care about the email you sent out at the request of moveon, which is all anyone else was doing in August 2011.

    2. nanook

      that’s funny because it’s every liberal and conservative i see that are the ones constantly defending the sytem and asking for us to not demand too much strongly that our system stop murdering and stealing. in fact, they’re the ones that have made it possible all along. those that adhere to non-capitalist viewpoints are the only chance america’s got.
      hi, i’m a real life non-cop anarchist, and i approve of this message.

  25. Luke Lea

    I suggest OWS’ers wear some kind of visible insignia to signify to the public and media their commitment to the principles of non-violent civil disobedience. White head-bands for instance. Someone suggested shoe laces because they are hard to put on and take off. Vandals wearing such insignia could be marked with spray paint and/or be subject to citizen arrest (but only if enough citizens are nearby to gang tackle them). I would imagine everything could be documented on cell phones and posted on YouTube if necessary.

    There are bound to be agent provacateurs in a situation like this. They must be neutralized.

    1. Walter Wit Man

      Funny that those that claim to be non-violent dream about being violent, not against the 1% or the police, but against their fellow protesters.

      One should always be careful doing citizen arrests, especially in this type of environment. Especially since you are enforcing misdemeanor crimes. If you tackled someone for jaywalking, for instance, and tried to arrest them they may be justified in defending themselves from you. They could beat you up you may still be the person in the wrong.

      And actually, in that situation, I’ll be rooting for the Black Block person to beat the liberal (most likely a ‘Democrat’ or “progressive”, e.g. Michael Moore). Hell, the police probably don’t need to do anything to control the protests, simply bus in a bunch of Democrats or progressives (maybe Act Blue can sponsor it) and they will do the cops work for them of attacking the left flank.

      1. Maju

        It’s a matter of democracy (not of violence or nonviolence): the minority violence-fetishist do not have the right to destroy the protest of the majority and must be treated for what they are: undercover cops. You will probably will not have another chance to break the knee of any cop in your life (arrests: what for?) so take your chance when the goons in black begin behaving childishly, chances are that they are cops.

        An anarchist telling you that.

        1. Walter Wit Man

          I don’t doubt the police like the vandalism. It seems unquestionable that the modern American police force is eager to attack citizens and they are milking the vandalism for all it’s worth. I also don’t doubt the police have also committed acts of vandalism in the past (I’ve usually seen them destroying police property though, like a squad car, so they aren’t technically committing any crime–unless it’s inciting a riot, I guess). I appears the OPD has plainclothes officers with the protesters. And I bet Homeland Security has a number of protesters under investigation (whether they advocate pettty vandalism or not).

          But it doesn’t seem to me the anti capitalist march on Nov. 2 was driven by police. Maybe, but I think many of the non-violence fetishists can’t imagine that there are angry people in their ranks that want to engage in more shocking forms of civil disobedience and minor property crimes (and once again, I’m not advocating violence–nor is vandalism violence).

          In fact, the story that hasn’t really been told is how Mayor Quan has abdicated her responsibility by letting the Feds coordinate a military style attack. The ACLU is suing because of the major breaches of OPD policy and other criminal acts by the police. A federal judge is in receivership of OPD has scrutinized its policies and tactics and yet Quan invites in 18 or so different police agencies, many of them from towns outlaying Oalkand where there was a lot of white flight away from Oakland. So basically, Quan invited in a bunch of bloodthirsty suburban cops hell bent on beating up hippies and black people and where there is no real oversight and everyone can point the finger at others. It appears Homeland Security is setting our community policing policy, but I don’t know because the media and our politicians don’t give a rip and have all obscured the story (with a helpful assist from the Whole Foods liberals who want to talk solely about windows). Quan probably knows if she takes the heat she’ll get a nice golden parachute either from the Obama administration or some corporation. So bring on the fascism.

          We have an unaccountable fascist police force with out of control politicians. Some people, mostly younger, are so fed up they are engaging in acts of vandalism. This is inevitable–look at other conflict areas like Libya or Egypt–people do the same thing there to show their anger.

    2. Walter Wit Man

      So if Rush Limbaugh organized a group to go in and make citizen arrests to reopen the port you would be all for that, right? What about Democrats? If they tried to block the march to the port and stop the senseless violence against American business?

      Those tens of thousands of protesters must be neutralized because they are senselessly harming property owners, right? Think how many people were on the side of the protesters but then heard they were “senselessly” shutting down commerce and hurting regular people? On my local news they showed protesters standing in front of angry truckers and preventing them from delivering goods (its funny that these images were not widely distributed and even the Bay Area local media downplayed the Port shutdown). Or do you only want to deputize liberals, maybe Democrats, to enforce property laws against protesters?

  26. Soullite

    On some level, you guys do have to admit that you were just fine letting a whole lot of people languish for decades, so long as your own lifestyles didn’t get affected. It was only when the upper-middle class started to take a hit that the internet decided to ‘care’ about income inequality. Before that, it was all the Iraq War, abortion, gay rights and other, more boutique interests.

    So yeah, a lot of people don’t quite view you as allies. You’re here now, but most of you would be fine going back to ignoring the 20% or so that never stepped a foot outside of poverty if you could get the old deal back.

    And really, if there is no point at which violence would ever be acceptable to you, then just go home. You’re going to run screaming in terror the minute the state gets serious anyway.

  27. Jane Powell

    So maybe the larger question is how DO we get to the 1%? Even shutting the port hurt port workers and truck drivers, who are part of the 99%. I talked to a woman the other day who works for the University of California(they have a building in downtown Oakland)- all the employees were forced to take an unpaid furlough day last Wednesday because of the fear of violence from the strike. That wasn’t something she could really afford to do (contrary to what one might think, the majority of UC workers are paid so little they are eligible for food stamps). Same for many workers in downtown retail stores (and retail workers are truly the working poor). There has been an effort here in Oakland to try and support the small businesses downtown that have been harmed by the occupation- at least by people who have some money to support them.

    I have been thinking hard about ways to hurt the 1% without hurting the 99%, but I’m not coming up with much. It seems like there’s always going to be collateral damage to regular people.I’m all for diversity of tactics, and God knows I’d really, really like to hit something, and I’m even down with taking over vacant buildings. But setting fires and smashing store windows isn’t gonna help the cause.

    For myself, though I live in Oakland, I haven’t even been able to make it down to the occupation, because I’m working seven days a week trying to keep my house out of foreclosure. I support the movement, but there are a lot of people like me in the 99%- people who are barely scraping by, who need to keep their crappy jobs, who can’t afford to get arrested, and who are too exhausted from trying to keep their life together to go down and march.

    1. R Foreman

      The first step is to wake up the 99% and educate them all, as much as possible. So keep working for the crappy 1% for now, and just spread the message.

  28. Gray Bear

    The police pray for violence. The mainstream media pray for violence. The Congress and the courts and the Obama Administration pray for violence. And they pay psychologists and psychiatrists and sociologists and urban anthropologists hefty consulting fees to teach them how to incite greater violence and use that violence to turn the American people against the protesters.

    What a waste of taxpayer dollars! Inciting violence is a total no brainer. Just meet every act of violence with greater violence. That’s bound to elicit greater violence from the protesters. Which, in turn, legitimizes greater violence from the cops to put the violence down. And on it goes. Till we get to the stage of protesters being shot to death, as happened at Kent State in 1970–at a thoroughly peaceful protest no less. Up for that?

    We haven’t caught the 1% by surprise. They knew that when they got down to stealing our last remaining goods and rights, we’d start to protest en masse. That’s why they’ve spent the last decade arming the police with everything from riot gear to actual tanks. And now there’s talk of giving them drones. At the same time, laws like the Patriot Act criminalize all forms of peaceful assembly that sanction “terrorist acts.” Broken windows, anyone? Pouring your own blood on the pavement in front of a nuclear weapons site is considered one. And the private prison industrial complex has a whole lot of empty jail cells just waiting there for me and you.

    I should note that even as I write this comment here in New York, a helicopter has been virtually sitting on top of my apartment house. It’s like those airport screening. Just a “gentle reminder” of what we’re up against.

    So let us not be fools.

    Where violent revolutions have succeed in the past, it is because large segments of the population have experienced extreme oppression by the ruling elite–and have learned to identify that oppression with that elite. That’s only just beginning here. While most Americans (even most Republicans!) support the right of OWS to “peacefully assemble” because most Americans still naively believe in the Constitution and the rule of law. We are still a long way from convincing most Americans that teachers and/or immigrants and/or seniors and/or “welfare queens” are not to blame for the fix we’re in. So we still have a lot of educating to do. And keeping the movement peaceful is essential for that to happen. Just think of all those folks out there who still believe the American dream will solve everything. And they line up everyday to buy their lotto tickets by the millions. We need to be talking to them. Violence right now will only play into the 1%’s hands.

    1. R Foreman

      I fully agree with you here. The injustices are so egregious that violent backlash seems reasonable. What we need to remember is that the 1% are well supplied, well entrenched; they have the best weapons, technology, and manpower that a sole superpower can buy, and they use them because there will be no repercussion to their actions.

      We need to wake the 99% up first, and then start fucking with the 1% in ways they never anticipated.

  29. nanook

    oh yeah, the tahrir square movement…you know, the guys that burnt down police stations and staged prison breaks? wonton, fantasy pacifism is the real danger to all resistance movements.

  30. Richard Lyon

    Do you have a link to the post by Affinis that you are quoting from? Who is this person and why do you find him/her credible?

  31. LeeAnne

    This is a very worthwhile discussion given the urgency of OWS to keep moving forward, building on its successes, and reaffirming its commitment to non-violence.

    While the movement is committed to non-violence as an organizational strategy, individuals must still make their own decisions regarding self-defense.

    The meaning of ‘commitment’ must be taught by those in leadership positions, and any group large or small, regardless of race, age, color, or belief, purged from decision making.

    Any organization must have discipline. Without it, OWS becomes toast.

    The organization is committed to all forms of ‘non-violence,’ period

  32. Susan the other

    I am firmly in the non violence camp. It doesn’t do us any good to throw a brick through a storefront window. But on the other hand I would be fully in favor of a pro-annoyance position. A suggestion for all those who are as scatological as I am: save your dog’s poop and go out in the late evening and rub it all over the door knob of a TBTF bank, wear your rubber gloves of course. Then take what’s left over and smear it into the keyboard at their ATM. After a month or two maybe there will be an indignant report on MSM but how will they word it? We really should upgrade sit-ins to shit-ins. Because the MSM won’t report on that even if they have a mouth full.

  33. ebear

    The solution to this problem is simple and you already have a model: the internet.

    Assemble peacefully in groups no larger than can fit in a car or van and set up at key intersections in the city with short, intelligible messages that can be read by passing motorists without endangering traffic.

    This has more reach than assembling in one place and exposing yourself to repression or mishap. At its present strength the movement can cover upwards of 1000 intersections and the message can be read every day by hundreds of thousands of passing motorists without relying on the media for coverage.

    How many cops would it take to suppress that? How many agent provocateurs can infiltrate a group of four or five friends assembling peacefully on a random street corner?

    If told to move on, don’t argue, just do so…. to another street corner. Rinse and repeat. Once traffic dies down you can go home to a hot meal, sleep in your own bed and be fresh and alert for the next day, and the next, and the next…. as long as it takes.

    Distribution and multiple redundancy. You have the model. Now use it.


    1. John Fry

      ebear – that’s a wonderful idea. Keep it simple and make it humorous if possible. Play to the rationality of common folks who are struggling to keep things together. I’m down in austin where there’s a homeless person on every major intersection with a cardboard sign. I can picture a line of OWS folks with one word on each sign leading up to the homeless panhandler – GIVE – MONEY – TO – THE – POOR – GUY – ON – THE – CORNER – BECAUSE – THAT’S – WHERE – WALL – STREET – IS – GOING – TO – PUT – YOU – BEFORE – THIS – CRISIS – IS – OVER

      You might find the following article of interest.


      1. ebear

        Thanks John. Good article. Catherine Austin Fitts has some ideas along those lines (solari.com). Her thesis is to wrest control from the cartel by establishing local credit unions to fund local business – basically a return to prudent banking and small ‘c’ capitalism. This fits (pardon the pun) with the emergent trend of moving private capital out of the banks and into the credit unions (or forming our own credit unions – the logical next step).

        I have a personal note to inject here – an observation I made about myself after my first business failure. Reflecting on what went wrong, I realized I had taken on far too much for one person, and that my ambitions didn’t match my capabilities or my pocketbook. In short, I was suffering from overreach. Not that it’s bad to aim high, but coming up short can be a discouraging experience, especially for someone just starting out, as I was.

        I subsequently developed a strategy I call “incrementalism” which consists of taking on smaller, more achievable tasks, one day at a time. The key is consistency. You have to make a habit of doing something each day – doesn’t matter what it is or how small the task – just the fact that you’re doing it generates the motivation to keep going. After a while, you learn how to build on previous efforts, and eventually it becomes a natural process. You set goals, you achieve them. Incrementally.

        I see something of this nature emerging from OWS. Rather than take on the big issues, people are looking around for a starting point – something they can do personally that adds to the collective effort, without it becoming an overwhelming burden. This can be a material or financial contribution, or simply offering up one’s genuine thoughts as I see happening in this forum.

        Again, the key is to start small, keep it simple, and be consistent. Debate should be encouraged, but polemics and hard ideological positions should be avoided. We are dealing with a human crisis, and we need a human approach. To that end we should be prepared to work with anyone who supports the basic premise, which needs little elaboration – the key elements are already embodied in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

        This is a huge undertaking – possibly the largest in our history. No one person can be expected to understand all the issues, let alone propose solutions, but we can work incrementally towards that goal by taking on tasks which we do understand, and in the process inspiring others to do likewise. This gets to be a habit after a while, especially when there’s no alternative but poverty and despair.


  34. Jim

    Thoughts and Questions on our Movement:

    Are we in the process of building new politically legitimate forms of authority?

    Does the anarchist tendency within OWS support the idea of creating new forms of political authority?

    Is it true that anarchists generally do not seek to seize state power for themselve but rather wish to destroy that power?

    How is it possible to build a structure of popular assertion that is strong enough to contest the exising power of the received culture, while at the same time creating within that structure forms of social relations that are democratic?

    Are the limits of democratic practice in power foreshadowed by the extent of democractic practice in insurgency?

    Are popular democratic politics rare in history because we do not understand the process of democratic movement building?

    Does OWS now offer the potential for a larger-scale social recruitment and mobilization to occur?

    Will such mobilization, in itself, politcally reduce the barriers of fear within us?

    Do our personal barriers of fear only dissolve in the presence of tangible indications that power relationships are shifting or offer the prospect of shifting?

    What would such a power-shift look like?

    Would we actually have to see or directly experience such a power shift for political fear to dissolve?

    Are we ultimately about negotiating with, confronting or absorbing the present structure of power?

    1. Maju

      I can’t reply to most of your questions but this one:

      “Is it true that anarchists generally do not seek to seize state power for themselve but rather wish to destroy that power?”

      Anarchism (libertarian communism) seeks to destroy the state and replace it with a grassroots democratic and communist network. Freedom not as individualism and property but freedom in mutually-supporting community.

      Not easy but that’s the goal. Ideally that’s also the goal of Marxists but they usually consider taking the state as an “intermediate” stage and then they get stuck there. Probably some comprehensive hybrid is the ideal thing, IMO.

      “Are popular democratic politics rare in history because we do not understand the process of democratic movement building?”

      Societies are different. Our late capitalist “Toyotist” society has no precedents even in its own past, remote or near.

      I think that when we aim for communism and grassroots democracy we are hoping to restore, to at least some extent, the natural state we enjoyed as hunter-gatherers and maybe early farmers. Naturally conditions are extremely different, yet some elements are the same, as any anthropologist can discern (for example our kinship system is known as the “Eskimo”, Inuit, system for a reason).

      Capitalism is a decodifying force that, in a twisted manner, Midas-like, destroys all it touches. Result: decodified people within a hyper-high tech level. What next? That part of the story has not yet been written not even predicted as far as I can tell: the challenges are huge but so are the hopes and potentials. We are at a critical crossroads where we are relatively free to create our own future.

      “Are we ultimately about negotiating with, confronting or absorbing the present structure of power?”

      Probably depends on each person’s viewpoint but I’d dare say that all three at the same time in a complex tense and dialectic manner (because the People is not a simple but a multifaceted organism). They are contradictory but also complementary at the same time. As long it is not the present structure of power which absorbs us…

      But I think that in general the present structure has nothing to offer and they unwillingness to even respect their own laws (see foreclosure scandal for example) is indicative that it is extremely exhausted as legitimate power. It can still languish for a while but I do not think it will be able to make any comeback.

      We are in the senility of Capitalism, when its actions have totally stopped making any sense. It must be put to sleep.

  35. indio007

    non-violence does not work against sadists. Lay there like a hippie. they are more than happy to beat you to death. The solution is to sue the cops personally , not in their official capacity, for the commission of torts. The most effective way is not going for huge payoffs but getting them alone in small claims court. There , they will get no union or city lawyer but make qualified immunity claims. They will be there on an island trying justify human rights violations based on some alleged “authority”. All men are equal of some despite the body politics license to maim and kill.

  36. Rangoon78

    Black bloc is Bullshit:

    Within this the “black bloc” and their supporters utilise the larger rally and split marches to launch attacks on property and the police. Usually the police wait long enough for damage to be created before they respond. In these situations it is one of the few times the police wait to crack down.

    Then, when the cops attack, the “bloc” usually retreats and tries to merge with others. In Genoa, the black bloc ran through a group of nuns engaged in a sit-in which resulted in the police attacking the nuns. In New York City, at a demonstration against WEF, the black bloc ended up running from the police and trampling down women Steelworkers from Toronto, who were then attacked by the police as the black bloc hid behind the Steelworkers.


  37. ThinkYourForgettingsomething



    “Violence is the use of physical force to apply a state to others contrary to their wishes”


    If OWS gave a fuck about what the media thought, this shit never would have gotten off the ground. Were you even watching major news networks during weeks 1 or 2?

    Peaceful Protest isn’t effective because “the American Public” approves of it..

    It’s got a tactical advantage. What do you think would happen if we went to Wall Street armed with the teeth?

    Violence is the tool of the oppressor-dominator culture. Our weapon is peace, and literally NO ONE was harmed by any of the Black Bloc Actions so for at OO.

    We are not talking about reform, we are talking about revolution.

    There is a reason that Anarchists have such a strong influence in this movement. This movement isn’t new. It’s the same thing we have been trying to do for thousands of years. We’ve won major victories (Women’s Suffrage, 8-hour day, Labor Laws, Civil Rights, etc), but it’s not over yet.

    Don’t you understand that that’s what’s going on here?

    No one is going home anytime soon.


  38. rotter

    This is the typical, usual failure of Anarchists. Individually we arent a movement.It will be a great shame if such a good opportunity is wasted giving a couple of hundred narcissists an opportunity to prove they are more important than everyone else. Anarchists = Libertarians = free marketeers.Same ethics.

  39. rotter

    It also creates an opportunity for police and or other agencies of the staus quo to plant provocateurs. It also erases the short memory of police violence.

  40. Bernard

    anarchists are the Elites wet dream. who could ask for more. destroy the movement from within. help the Anarchists and their violence destroy the OWS from within.

    a lady i work with sees the OWS movement as lazy, homeless, thieves spending OUR support/money to lay around in the parks bitching. not to say she is wrong, i will say she is the example of the non thinking, propaganidized American.

    with Violence, against Buildings, and private property like those in Oakland, the OWS is just counting the days till everyone else sees OWS as just as violent as the Police. this is just help for the Police to win the PR war.

    and that is what the Elites want. the Anarchist are the agents for the Elites, no matter what the Anarchists say. actions speak louder than Anarchists talking points.

    so destroy the OWS movement and let the Anarchist use violence. that will quickly end the OWS movement. i gather violence is the only reason Anarchist are in OWS. otherwise i would have thought they would not need OWS to be violent on the other guy’s dime.

    there isn’t enough pain in MIddle America yet. it has started but the violence of the Anarchists just divert attention from the violence the Elites are doing to us all.

    the Middle Class is so ignorant and comfortably numb. they choose to believe they can be Rich and still buy the Republican BS.

    with a few more years of the present situation, which won’t get better any time in the future, then and only then will a “movement” carry though.

    beware the violence of the Anarchists. use the Anarchists when the time is right if that opportunity occurs, for Right now the Anarchists are using OWS to justify their “violence.”

    maybe it will take lots of Kent States to wake up the Middle Class. they sure are dumb, willingly. that is. like my co-worker, they see no connection between the poor/homeless and themselves.’

    little do they know or care, the MIddle class, that is, they are next in line for the Elite’s dinner.

    1. Maju

      Please do not disparage about anarchists when you are probably talking about infiltrated cops (and maybe some hyperactive kids drowning in anger). It is precisely to destroy the image of the Anarchist movement (as well as the OWS movement as a whole) what those cops are infiltrating for.

      1. lambert strether

        Yes! It’s crucial to remember that the GA, consensus-based decision making, even the Spokes Council, and a lot of other processes come out of the anarchist tradition/experience as well.

        OTOH, seems like a settting up a process where a bunch of anonymous, masked people go out and vandalize is an open invitation for infiltration and agent provocateurs. Is the process designed to achieve what it so obviously does achieve? If not, what is its purpose? One of those worse is better, sharpen the contradiction deals that always end so well?

  41. two beers

    This is important for all of us on the left to understand:

    1. The breaking of windows and spraying graffiti (i.e. mild property vandalism) is VIOLENCE!! The perpetrators of these acts must be PUBLICLY CASTIGATED AND REPUDIATED, because there is a risk that people already predisposed to oppose OWS might think that not all of us are pacifistic hippies.

    2. Cops shooting peaceful demonstrators (e.g. a veteran gets teargas to the head; an old, possibly homeless, black man gets rubber bullets to the knee) is DEFENDING THE PEACE. While we may not support these police actions, it is more important that we criticize kids breaking windows, because that is violence.

    3. An not insignificant percentage of Tea Partiers are, unlike the black bloc kids, actually genuinely and publicly violent crazies. Tea Party Central feels no need to distance themselves from the these actually dangerous people, many of whom have already killed and wounded Americans. But we must distance ourselves from any kid who breaks a bank window, or sprays “smash the state” on the side of a building.

    Can we please quit acting like old frightened ninnies?

    You may actually think that breaking windows is the end of the world, but you have to realize that those kids and you are on the same side. Their actions may not be mature and sophisticated, but if you want to see what real violent protest looks like, I invite you to turn your eyes to Europe.

    Those people know how to fight back when sand is kicked in their face.

  42. Benedict@Large

    This is not unexpected. Contrary to popular portrayals, the peaceful protest movements led by Gandhi, Mandela, and King were paralleled by smaller violent factions that were initially part of but had broken off from the main peace movement. In fact, it’s doubtbful that these peace movements could have achieved the successes they did without the contrast of the violence to motivate the “enemy” into negotiations and eventual resolutions.

    The key aspect of this however is that this group needs to break off and establish its own identity for this good guy/bad guy dynamic to be effective. And it also has to understand that if it does not do so, the entire movement will fracture and end, as non-violent participants will eventual refuse to take the heat for actions they disapprove of.

  43. Jim

    One could criticize all strategies of the past years: Boring demos led by Answer, Nader, becoming the most active Democrats ala Kos, “clicktivism”, and the Black Bloc.

    Big difference for the latter – it will get you arrested and put into jail.

    Think before you do anything stupid.

      1. JTFaraday

        Some people just need to state the obvious. Managers, doctors, lawyers, warnings on cigarette packs. The amount of trans-fat on the Long John Silver’s menu.

        But the truth is that many people are caught in the catch-22 of wanting a mass popular movement due to objective conditions, but they don’t want a lot of the things that frequently go along with mass movements.

        Kind of like how a lot of liberals will profess to wanting a democracy– but only if they can get rid of the teanutters.

        It doesn’t necessarily happen that way, whether there’s a “Black Bloc” or not.

  44. Jack Parsons

    OccupyOakland is bad news. It has turned and been taken over by Berkeley- the 60s never ended in Berkeley. There are still Maoists in Berkeley. OO has ignored the marvelous OWS tactic of being enigmatic. Enigmas are magnetic.

    ‘Peace Police’ are badly needed.

  45. indio007

    There sure are alot of people that have been duped into thinking non-violence is the answer. The power elite can’t win in a violent struggle against the masses. Like another poster said. A small group of people that take direct action with the threat of the passive majority ,at any moment, doing the same at any moment is what brings them to the table.
    Ghandhi’s success is an aberration in world history.

    1. Maju

      “The power elite can’t win in a violent struggle against the masses”.

      I don’t know if they can or not (it probably depends on many factors) but I’m 100% sure that they can win a violent struggle against a self-marginalized police-infiltrated militarized (non-democratic) self-proclaimed-vanguard/savior smartass corpuscle of fanatics who idolater violence.

      And in the meantime the popular struggle may well be damaged.

      Your bunch of wannabe heroes (in reality puppets of police) are not “the masses”.

  46. Otter

    The error was not “inclusiveness”.

    Back when all this started, the sole advertised object was to “occupy”. Back then many of us agreed that above all else the occupiers must refuse to give into seductive demands to publish simplistic demands.

    The first, and fatal error, was to allow some people to impose a “general assembly”, which was not an assembly at all – the occupation was the assembly – but a hierarchy.

    We no longer have an assembly of citizens, a fertile mix of many sharing their stories with many others sharing their own stories. We have instead, one at a time, a few, pushing unanswered their speeches onto the silent many – as permitted and controlled by a small band of experts.

    The second mistake followed as surely as a shadow follows a candle. Somebody wants to DO SOMETHING! Enough of the audience, bored with standing around silent, forbidden to share their stories, fall in and overwhelm the occupation. They published one simplistic demand : to impose inconvenience on others – to be a nuisance.

    The error was not “inclusiveness”. It was exclusion.

  47. Reede

    There are times that violence may be useful. This isn’t one of them for what should be obvious reasons.

    The Occupy movement is growing because there is laser-like focus on Wall Street as the problem. Violence changes that focus, with predictable results.

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