community-based, non-corporate, participatory media
Celebrating Tactical Diversity
by pr0t3s7 Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2003 at 2:12 AM
Anything is possible
The science of social psychology presents a plethora of lessons that are quite applicable to our present movement against state aggression. For instance, there exists a disturbingly popular sentiment suggesting that Thursday's mass arrests were somehow caused by the few individuals who overturned newspaper stands. This illogical suggestion is a natural product of the "belief in a just world", that is, the belief that people deserve any actions perpetrated upon them, that the police need some sort of morally justifiable reason to make mass arrests. This type of reasoning is ridiculous, as it fails to address the fact that almost all (if not all) arrestees were charged with "obstruction of public passage" and "failure to disperse", not "conspiracy to overturn a newspaper stand" or "participating as an accomplice in the moving of a newspaper stand". Moreover, this type of sentiment functions as a divisive entity, with the detrimental ability to polarize the movement. People must understand that marching in the street unpermitted is illegal, as is the moving of a newspaper stand. Both actions are taken as efforts to disrupt the complacency inherent in the functioning of business as usual. Certain individuals refuse to be classified as criminals for their actions, but will not hesitate to throw the proverbial first stone at their supposed allies.
On Thursday, I witnessed a rather disturbing occurence at the end of the Smithfield bridge portion of the march. Perhaps 2 newspaper stands had been moved to the street, and an enraged male demonstrator ran up to my friend. Screaming in his face, he explicitly expressed his utter hatred for the practice of moving the newspaper stands. The man continued to aggressively place his hands on my friend, as though he intended to cause true bodily injury. I was quite confused with this individual's behavior: if a man stands on such a moral high ground that he objects to the moving of a newspaper stand, why would he, in the name of non-violence, continue to physically assault my friend? Quite an odd contradiction, however, this type of action fails to surprise me.
I do find it important to note that the relocation of an inanimate object does not constitute an instance of property destruction, although I see this phrase used in the attempted identification of this type of action. Property destruction entails, obviously, the actual destruction of property. Moving dominial property to assist in a road blockade does not destroy property, it simply moves it.
The actions of those individuals who moved the large inanimate objects into the street were a logical continuation of the fundamental nature of the protest itself. The unpermitted march was designed to disrupt business as usual by blocking traffic, for which reason people walked in the middle of busy streets. Inanimate objects were used in order to assist marchers in the clogging of the large concrete arteries comprising the interior of the city. Some activists were hopeful that the metal boxes would possess the ability to stall the advancement of police vehicles, thus enabling the march to continue in a relatively unhindered fashion. Occuring in the context of the larger march, these actions served as an attempt to assist marchers in the disruption of the "status quo". Moreover, inanimate road barricades may motivate motorists to, if only momentarily, leave the private, anti-social sanctity of their private automobiles to help others move debris from the street. This type of cooperation may show the typical American that mutual aid is more efficient than mutal struggle, and, in the long run, may pave the way for a more desirable form of social existence. Hence, these radical actions possess the potential to function as an integral component in the necessary occurence of the shattering of the shackles of mass conformity and mindless, unquestioning obedience to authority.
The claims that the re-orientation of property is contradictory when in the context of an anti-war protest are quite absurd. I can't be certain, but I am pretty positive that people are against this war for reasons such as mass civilian casualties and the lack of concern for the health of working class american soldiers, not because of some sort of actions perpetrated against non-vital property. If American troops were sent to Iraq for the purpose of pushing dumpsters into the street, I hardly believe that many people would be protesting. It is utterly disgusting that some individuals can honestly compare violence perpetrated against sentient humans with the alteration of the location of a large metal box. When one demonstrates against militaristic actions of interpersonal violence, the utilization of property for the purpose of protest is by no means a contradictory action.
Active protest possesses the ability to bring a diverse dynamic of individuals to protests. In Baltimore, a couple of my best friends (rather destitute African-American males), stated their opposition to the policies of the US government, however, they said that they were not interested in attending protests because they appeared to be boring and unproductive. When they saw images of more active demonstrations, however, they expressed their will to attend progressive demonstrations. An analysis of urban protests does show that impecunious populations are generally not afraid to take active approaches in demonstrations, hence, a diversity of tactics can function to increase the diversity of protesters at demonstrations.
When certain individuals enter specific corporations that are responsible for exercising malevolent practices on the destitute population of the world, both directly and indirectly, they are attempting to express their dissent in an location responsible for certain nefarious practices. These types of actions are, in part, and attempt to radicalize individuals in the movement and encourage them to demonstrate against the commodification of all life on earth. It is only logical that people who oppose the massive starvation that will result from the war in iraq may also
oppose the massive starvation inflicted upon the emaciated populace of the "third world" by multinational corporations and the desire of CEOs to maximize opulence at the expense of laborers. If someone does not agree with the tactics of these "intrusive" activists, it is understandable, however, these types of actions do have a place in an unpermitted march. If, for instance, in the context of an unpermitted march a person holds a banner with a statement about the war that another protester doest not agree with (such as someone who holds a sign that says "No Blood for Oil" standing next to someone with a placard reading "Stop American Imperialistic Hegemony: End War in Iraq") the former should respect the opinion of the latter. Both are "criminally" expressing their views (in an unpermitted march), as are the people who enter stores to vocalize their opposition.
Virtually any mass protest will possess the potential to annoy motorists. In the analysis of the nature of unpermitted marches we must address the fact that even permitted street marches generally force drivers to take lengthy detours. Hence, if one is concerned with not impeding the path of motorists, it is suggested that he or she refrain from participating in any mass protest, be it permitted or illegal. There is an argument that unpermitted marches only enrage people in automobiles who will in turn express hatred towards our views and join the ranks of war supporters. To this argument, I respond with the notion that it is rather unlikely that anyone who would ever actively participate in a movement against this war would somehow decide to loathe the cause of the demonstrators because of a slight inconvinience. I don't believe I will ever hear anything even close to the statement "I didn't like the senseless militaristic murdering of children in Iraq until I had to take a 3 minute detour to get home. Now, instead of participating in protests, I will support the war I opposed a few minutes ago". Nor do I believe that slight inconveniences will cause moderates to support the war. If anything, these inconveniences will actively present the moderate individual with an occurence generally ignored by the corporate news media: resistance to the war.
We must blatantly reject the state's desires to divide our movement on the basis of tactical preference. "Solidarity" is more than a catch-phrase, and we must express true unity to our brothers and sisters, for the division of this movement is exactly what our nefarious war-monering government desires. We must express our unity towards those who march along side us in the streets and extend our loving hands to those who put themselves on the line to actively dismantle the societal enthrallment of the unquestioning support of a violent bureaucratic regime.
To the notion that thursday's arrests were not at least in part politically motivated I must explain that, throughout my stay in jail, I heard COs make nothing but excessively negative comments about our political views. Naturally, they could never defeat us in debate (the officers issued some terribly imbecilic remarks in favor of the present war), however, they knew that we were subordinated to their brutal power, and they took full advantage of the occassion. While I am aware that the police force is comprised of many individuals, some generally amiable and others quite fascistic, there is a disturbing truth about the nature of the police force that must be acknowledged. In situations where large groups of police congregate, they are subjected to the orders of a superior officer, some type of chief or commander. When this authoritarian figure orders subordinated officers to make mass arrests, they will do so. Generally, the same goes for orders to gas a peaceful crowd, or to brutally attack a pacific group of demonstrators. Officers will obey the orders of their "superiors" in most cases, even when these instructions go against their personal beliefs. Hence, even the friendliest police officer can become your enemy when subjected to specific commands. This is an unfortunate result of the nature of hierarchically authoritarian organizations, and is something that must be addressed and analyzed.
From firsthand experience, I have noticed that the jail experience has at least partially served as a positive occurence for the movement. Many individuals were radicalized in the 30+ hours they spent inside of concrete cages. The incarceration of our physical bodies failed to shackle our revolutionary souls. Jail cells acted as both comedy hours and activist organizing spaces, with many interesting suggestions being discussed and debated in cell block H-15. By utilizing our time together, we made it quite apparent that the police were only doing us a favor by providing us with an organizing arena. Last week's experiences with the police served only to revolutionize a progressive movement. We must advance our tactics and analyze our methods, not on the basis of maintaining a counter-productive and illogically broad "moral high ground", but for the purpose of exercising an effective resistance to the truculent perpetuations of the state.
The Detriment of Uncompromising Obedience
Now, let's analyze unquestioning obedience from the perspective of social psychology. A prime exemplification of this phenomenon is seen in Stanley Milgram's most famous experiment. In this experiment, a figure of authority (the experimenter) instructed a subject to question a pupil in the other room. When the pupil answered a question incorrectly, the subject was instructed to administer an electric shock to the pupil (the shocks were not real, however, the subject was made to believe that he was truly harming the pupil, as a recorded scream was emitted after each shock). These shocks increased in voltage as the questions went on. The final shocks were "lethal". Surprisingly, 63% of subjects administered the strongest "lethal" shocks to the pupil when instructed to do so. Some obviously stressed subjects would question the experimenter about whether they should go on, but when the experimenter instructed them to do so, they obliged.
Proximity also has a strong influence upon the behavior of a subject. In Milgram's experiment, only 30% of subjects completed the experiment when they had to actually touch the learner. Unfortunately, in this present war, soldiers are far removed from their victims. Pilots do not have to physically touch the innocent civilians killed by their actions, rather, they fire cruise missles from the relative safety of the cockpit. Therefore, there is little chance that any military pilot would disobey orders to bomb a residential section of the city, for the individual is so far removed from the results of his actions. This type of distancing is also seen between the American populace and the actual war in Iraq. Domestic war supporters enjoy coverage of the bombings from the comfort of their living room. Fox news has rendered warfare into a giant football game, and people eagerly wave their flags in support of the home team. Unfortunately, news cameras rarely record the shattered craniums of young girls murdered in "surgical" attacks.
Fortunately, Milgram's study did yield a positive conclusion. When there was a sign of disobedience on the part of another individual involved in the experiment, only 10% of people completed the experiment by administering the strongest shocks (compared with 63% during the absence of dissent). This demonstrates the notion that visible and active resistance can break the myth of "universality", that is, the prevarication that everyone is obedient. This tendency provides the contemporary anti-war protest movement with some hope, however, in the name of "looking good on tv", many people are not willing to do all in their power to break the cell of complacent obedience that incarcerates our society.
The Sun's Always Rising...
What would you have done to stop the holocaust? Would you have rendered your dissent ineffective on the basis of maintaining some sort of egotistical level of "civility"? Would you have attempted to thwart and unravel the non-violent actions of others while innocent people died? We posses an insurrectionary potential unparalleled in the course of modern history, and it is imperative that this energy be utilized for positive progression, not repressed to maintain a lethal "status quo".
Will protests exist as nothing more than inconsequential "focus groups" that America's president insists lack the power to effect his policies? Will we render our dissent into insignificant strolls in the park while children are incinerated? Will people continue to violently assault their fellow demonstrators in the name of the preservation of "non-violence"?
We possess the ability to stop a global holocaust and prevent senseless suffering, however, it is going to take a great deal of action to make a difference. I find it quite interesting that certain people will willingly attend a march organized by individuals who blatantly call for an escalation of resistance, yet will exercise authoritarian and physical repression over those who constantly place themselves on the line. Will I limit my disgust only to individuals who attack the more militant demonstrators for their actions? Naturally I intend to address those militant individuals who truly jeopardize the safety of others and engage in instances of unwarrented interpersonal violence. However, I have not witnessed any actions of protesters that fit into these categories.
I ask all of you, liberals, socialists, anarchists, and anyone else who takes to the street in public dissent, to respect the tactical decisions of others. My masked friend never assaulted any anti-war demonstrator for the manner in which they chose to express their views, yet he was assaulted by an overzealous and hypocritical individual who seeked recognition for his supposed good deed. I will not unravel the work of the woman who chooses to question the sanctity of property by using her body to block traffic, and, in turn, I expect her to express the same sort of solidarity towards my choice of actions (so long as these actions refrain from exercising interpersonal violence and excessive damage, tactical unity is a necessity).
My fellow activists, I express nothing but genuine admiration for you. After countless hours of marching arm in arm, serving food to the homeless, and organizing inside the concrete walls of a crowded jail cell, I feel as though I love many of you, though I have never even seen some of your faces. We have openly discussed our most private concerns, and I have concluded that many of you are honestly willing to place your lives on the line to manufacture a more meaningful and enjoyable existence for the people of the world. May we learn to discuss our tactical discrepancies, but a the same time respect the decisions of others. It would be a true shame if the contemporary effort lost its cohesiveness, for our solidarity makes us a force possessing limitless potential.
Take my hand, for together we will ascend from the depths of this malign existence.
by pjd Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2003 at 2:26 PM
Excellent analysis of our current situation and the liberal backbiters weakening the movement. Your insights from the Milgram experiment are right-on.
Maybe I'm old fashoned, but there is no reason the author should need to use a moniker (pr0t3s7) instead of a recognizable name. The author deserved recognition and credit. Then again, maybe "recognition" is a relic of heirarchies.
by Evan N Wednesday, Mar. 26, 2003 at 8:55 PM
very well written dude.
although moving newspaper stands isnt property destruction, its as good as property destuction to the media and therefore to the public - thats why i personally oppose it. but great essay/article/writing thing. very well writeen
Comment from an Environmentalist
by Jeremy Baker Friday, Mar. 28, 2003 at 5:35 PM
Very well written article, the new movement needs more such writings. I do agree that in certain circumstances material property can be compromised in the name of protest. However, one must be careful what one destroys and why.
I will agree that burning an American Flag, toppling a statue or even throwing a brick in a store window(as long as employees are not harmed) is justifiable in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, in the heat of protest, some mistakes are made. People destroy property with no symbolic or tactical value. When they do this, they undermine the movement.
An example: I witnessed a group overturn a recycling bin at the last protest i was at. The only statement that made was that we dont like recycling, not that we dont like war. It also causes some poor working class brother to have to clean the whole mess up and a loss of a number of recycleable resources.
So, in sum, if you must destroy something, think about it and make sure it makes a real statement or serves a real tactical purpose ahead of time.
not at all
by pr0t3s7 Saturday, Mar. 29, 2003 at 4:22 AM
Jeremy Baker, you must understand that the aim of moving the recycling dumpster was not to destroy the object, but simply to use it to our tactical advantage. The dumpster was not harmed, vandalized, or destroyed, therefore, I have difficulty understanding your statement that the action showed "that we don't like recycling". The recycling dumpster was overturned in an effort to manufacture an inanimate barricade, an extention of the disruptive nature of the day's march.
"It also causes some poor working class brother to have to clean the whole mess up and a loss of a number of recycleable resources"
In order for this statement to be of any significance, one must assume that the "working class brother" would not otherwise be doing some other menial task as a part of his job. That, if no dumpster had been overturned at the dem0nstration, the city worker would somehow have gotten to get paid to sit around and do nothing for the amount of time it would have taken to return the object to its original space. This type of thinking is obviously flawed, for the city worker works a set number of hours, and would be cleaning up some other mess somewhere in oakland. To assume that the action possessed even the potential to make the city employee work harder is to assume that there is a small and finite amount of work for this individual to perform. To assume that people do not constantly create new work for this person. To assume that it is somehow wrong to place flyers on telephone poles because "some poor working class brother [would] have to clean the whole mess up". Naturally, we do not aim to make anyone's life harder, however, the action did not have this effect, nor is it logical to assume that it would have.
I apologize if I sound irritated, angry, or confrontational, for that is not my intention. It's just that these topics are really important to me, and I want to explain every aspect of them in detail. I don't think that everything I do is perfect, hell, I don't think that anything I do is even good (with a few exeptions). But activism is something to which I feel I must give my best effort, for we really need to do something about the conditions of our world. I just believe that a lot of people are vilifying certain sectors of the movement, and their ill-intended statements must be confronted (and, in the case of Jeremy Baker, I just wanted to clarify a few things).
Ok, misunderstandings aside, I would like to thank Jeremy Baker and everyone else who has commented positively on my article. Seriously, I wasn't sure what to expect, but your encouraging replies are incredibly motivating. I believe that I may be handing out copies of this article at sunday's rally.