Violence or property damage at protests

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Michelle
Violence or property damage at protests

We touched upon this in another thread recently, but it was kind of off-topic there (the one on Anarchism). So I wonder we might continue here in this thread.

I work with Judy Rebick, so I generally read her blog posts every day, and when she posted today's, I thought, hey, I'll bet babblers will have something to say about this.

I remember back in 2001 we had a similar discussion (wish I could access it so that people could read it for background, sigh). People talked about "diversity of tactics" and "protesting zones" etc., where the militants would be up front, and people who didn't want to throw rocks or smash windows or whatever would stay in designated zones. A pretty big debate followed, between those who were okay with smashing windows or rock-throwing (or at least didn't want to condemn the practice), and those who felt it was bad optics and bad for the movement.

I feel like it's not really much of an issue these days - I've been to a good number of protests in Toronto in the past few years but none of them have been violent, so my feeling is that the "black bloc" thing is kind of passe. Which I'm happy about, because I like to take my son to the occasional protest, but would feel pretty uncomfortable doing so if I thought there was a chance of rock-throwing or tear gas.

Anyhow...here's Judy's take on the subject, but of course other views are welcome too. I would also note that it's important to take into account the possibility of agents provocateur, such as that rock-thrower that was unmasked at a protest a few years ago, who turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Refuge Refuge's picture

I went to a protest a few years ago for Kanonhstaton near Caledonia that was held at Queens Park. Though the action that was taken was not violent and not property damage it was known when one of the protestors announced he was going to try add the Unity Flag to the flag at Queens Park it would provoke the police into action.

I thought it was handled very well. After the protestor announced he was going to do this an elder objected and a circle was formed for anyone who wanted to talk. People went around and it was decided after everyone talked that because there were children and out of respect for the people who had organized the demonstration - of whom the particular protestor was not a part of but had been invited by them - that he would wait until the demonstration had finished and anyone wishing to stay in support would wait until those who did not want to participate.

There were a dozen of us left to stand in support and witness what happened,which I am sure everyone can guess.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

Quote:
It's unlikely the media coverage will focus on the peaceful Climate Camp activities. It's also very likely the police will be allowed to blame troublemakers without having to explain why they deliberately hemmed people in and would not allow them to leave – aggravating the crowds. With more free movement, we doubt there would have been any tension to boil over. But protestors are easy targets for the media to stereotype, and today will be no different.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/01/g20-protest-violence-police 

martin dufresne

Property damage was very much an issue at the recent demo against police brutality in Montreal. These acts did accompany - indeed follow - an extensive amount of police provocation, abusive arrests, that ended up making the protestors' point about a recent rise in police brutality - to the point of outright murder of innocent citizens. 

So it's a complex dynamic where, in the end, one needs to question notions such as the words "us" "our movements" that bracket Judy's post and may end up reflecting "natural" leaders' alleged owning of a movement. 

Affirming the diversity of the movement(s) and even minority positions within it can too easily be sidelined by such leaders' implicit appeals to a statu quo that hides the systemic, covered-up violence of people in uniform or 3-piece suits.

Joey Ramone

I completely agree with Judy Rebick on this. 

Here's another recent Canadian example:

In the midst of the peaceful blockades in 2007 and 2008 by Algonquins and their supporters against uranium mining in eastern Ontario some nob(s) thought it would be cool to plant a firebomb at the office of Frontenac Ventures Corp., the mining company.  This childish "action" was universally condemned by all those who were doing the hard work on the blockades and other protest and legal actions to stop mining.  It is difficult to imagine any action which would be more effective in helping the mining industry to undermine the non-violent protest movement than planting a bomb.  The net result is to frighten many people away from the protests and allow the mining industry to depict themselves as the poor victims of violent, destructive extremists.  Not to mention giving the OPP a rationale that they wouldn't otherwise have had to wiretap activists' phones and conduct other forms of aggressive surveillance.  Certainly made me wonder if maybe the bomb was planted by agents provocateurs for the industry.

Maysie Maysie's picture

My argument in support of applied or tactical or strategic violence is to compare the "cost" of a broken window at a fast food chain or a bank (I don't support throwing rocks into the windows or otherwise damaging the property of small single-owner businesses or residential homes) to the cost of anti-human violence conducted by the police and other state agents against entire populations in Canada.

"Violence" is defined in very particular ways. My question is why are certain individual acts of violence decried and criminalized, and other ongoing day-to-day acts of violence perpetuated by the Canadian state, both in Canada and across the globe (Afghanistan) are deemed okay?

Sadly, that's a rhetorical question.

I respect Judy's voice and her position in the left, but I one point I do strongly object to is her characterizing the black bloc as being typically violent. This is how they are characterized in the MSM and I'm sad to see Judy buy into the rhetoric.  

I'm interested in reading more in this thread as the discussion progresses. 

Krystalline Kraus Krystalline Kraus's picture

Joey's post highlights the elitism of the left, in which is it usually the "good" left trying to righteously distance themselves from the "bad" left (kinda like the whole "deserving" poor and "undeserving" poor)

Check out Joey's language.

1: ..."nob(s) thought it would be cool..." (do you mean nOOb, or someone "new" to the movememt? Can you explain why someone new to the movement would be more likely to use diversity of tactics or are you making a stereotype assuming either new protesters are stupid or veteran protesters would never engage in such acts?)

2: Joey also calls demonstators' "childish"

And also Judy Rebick's language as she refers to such protester's as "yahoos"

Such labels are dismissive and divisive and show a snobbery and a lack of respect for people's ability to chose for themselves and their choice of using certain tactics -- which they have personally chosen.

Now, this choice might piss someone else off, but you shouldn't be allowed to run your mouth because of it....there is a different between a constructive arguement for/against versus being dismissive and elitist. No one controls the left in so much as they can police the left or determine what actions are "right" or "wrong".

Ghislaine

Maysie wrote:

My argument in support of applied or tactical or strategic violence is to compare the "cost" of a broken window at a fast food chain or a bank (I don't support throwing rocks into the windows or otherwise damaging the property of small single-owner businesses or residential homes) to the cost of anti-human violence conducted by the police and other state agents against entire populations in Canada.

"Violence" is defined in very particular ways. My question is why are certain individual acts of violence decried and criminalized, and other ongoing day-to-day acts of violence perpetuated by the Canadian state, both in Canada and across the globe (Afghanistan) are deemed okay?

Sadly, that's a rhetorical question.

I respect Judy's voice and her position in the left, but I one point I do strongly object to is her characterizing the black bloc as being typically violent. This is how they are characterized in the MSM and I'm sad to see Judy buy into the rhetoric.  

I was at the 2001 anti-FTAA protests in Québec city as a peaceful protester. The large majority were peaceful, however the Black Bloc were definitely not. I was very close to them and witnessed their tactics -which quite frankly made me very angry. I though it was profoundly unfair that their actions were what was going to make the news (this is the media's fault as well obviously). It is quite possible to decry police brutality (of which there was much in Québec; I had a friend who was an exch. student from Columbia who was nearly deported) and decry protester violence.

 Distinguising between breaking windows of one business versus another one is also irrelevant. Often franchise chains are owned locally. Breaking windows and destroying property is not the way to fight these chains/banks/businesses whose practices we disagree with. It is just pointless wanton destruction - especially at a time when the taxpayer is providing a lot of corporate welfare for these companies.

 Great piece by Rebick. It is very frustrating when a peaceful protest is derailed by yahoos after organizers have worked hard at bringing many groups together.

Michelle

Hmm...

If someone makes the choice to throw rocks or damange stuff, that's their choice, and it might piss someone off.

If someone makes the choice to say they disagree with such a choice, then they shouldn't be allowed to run their mouths because of it?

I respect your position on this issue (more than I did in 2001, btw) ;) but I think it's just as legitimate for people to talk about such action and oppose such action as it is for others to engage in such actions.   

I think I agree with Judy on this one, though.  I understand the difference in magnitude between breaking the window of a fast food chain and the violence of the state when it comes to poverty and police action and all that.  But still, I don't really feel like violence and destruction is the answer.

Of course, then again, when Jose Bove "deconstructed" that McDonald's, that was a pretty amazing action.  But I would say that's different because it was a group of people who decided that the entire action they were going to take would be to dismantle the construction that was going up.  That to me is different than a few people taking it upon themselves to go to a vastly peaceful protest and start smashing things without any consultation from the rest of the protesters or the organizers.

Joey Ramone

Statica said:

  "Joey's post highlights the elitism of the left, in which is it usually the "good" left trying to righteously distance themselves from the "bad" left (kinda like the whole "deserving" poor and "undeserving" poor)

Check out Joey's language.

1: ..."nob(s) thought it would be cool..." (do you mean nOOb, or someone "new" to the movememt? Can you explain why someone new to the movement would be more likely to use diversity of tactics or are you making a stereotype assuming either new protesters are stupid or veteran protesters would never engage in such acts?)"

 

No, I didn't mean "noob" as in "new"; I meant "nob" or "knob" as in "jerk".   How is it elitist to say that people who want to support a protest should respect the consensus of those who worked very hard to organize a strictly non-violent protest, and the hundreds of people who have participated in a completely non-violent protest largely because it is non-violent protest?  Who is the elitist - the one who respects the decision of the Algonquins that there will be no violence or property damage, or the nob who thinks s/he knows better and decides to bomb a building?

It's Me D

I have to say its obvious Judy is out of her depth in that piece. From her assessment of the black bloc I suspect she's never taken the time to speak with any of them. Anyway, violence and property damage are very different things and the anonymous protestor quoted in the Guardian piece in Judy's story had it right:

Quote:
"This isn't violence," retorted another voice in the crowd. "We paid for this building."

Krystalline Kraus Krystalline Kraus's picture

Joey, I am referencing the G20 protests, and I am not sure what you are suggesting, other than putting up a poster for a large, public anti-glob demo and stating only certain groups are invited and excluding others?

What if members of the excluded group show up anyway, does someone from the original group then step up and act as a police or bouncer and turn them away? Ask them to leave? Forcable eject them? Hand them over the the police as a pre-emtive strike against any demonstrator who might look like "a troublemaker"?

No one should be allowed to crash someone else's party...that's why the concept of diversity of tactics is so important. No one says you can't have two simultaneous protests happening in two different parts of the same city on the same day, with diverse missions/statements. One is not bad and the other is good, simply because someone moans that one actions might "steal the thunder" from the other, or "steal" the media's focus.

I'm suggesting that constructive dialogue where both sides are allowed to present their opinions regarding tactics and where no side is belittled or dismissed would be better (belittled either by being called reformist or called violent yahoos).

Of course, the nature and flow and background to a protest should be respected, even more so in smaller, more "intimate" actions.

But if people want to make sweeping negative generalizations about "violent" uprisings because of their own morality, then they might as well re-write all of history while they are at it.

It's Me D

Ghislaine wrote:
I was at the 2001 anti-FTAA protests in Québec city as a peaceful protester. The large majority were peaceful, however the Black Bloc were definitely not. I was very close to them and witnessed their tactics -which quite frankly made me very angry. I though it was profoundly unfair that their actions were what was going to make the news (this is the media's fault as well obviously). It is quite possible to decry police brutality (of which there was much in Québec; I had a friend who was an exch. student from Columbia who was nearly deported) and decry protester violence.

I was also at the Summit of the Americas in 2001 as a (mostly) peaceful protestor. I was thankful for the actions of the black bloc at these protests. The violence they metted out was nothing in comparison to the violence employed by the police, generally against the more peaceful protestors, as one poster mentioned in the previous thread. The police appeared downright afraid of the black bloc and focused on abusing peacefully protesting teenagers and families; I can give two personal accounts where the actions of the black bloc actually saved peaceful protestors from harm/arrest at these protests. The media write us off anyway, I spoke with the CNN crew covering the event at the time; their misrepresentation started long before the oh-so-terrible acts of violence by the dispossessed and oppressed. Black bloc folks I know are the lowest of low-income workers, if not on the street themselves (and some are); they have nothing to lose and they put themselves on the line for those of us who do. Show some gratitude you yahoos Wink

It's Me D

Michelle wrote:
That to me is different than a few people taking it upon themselves to go to a vastly peaceful protest and start smashing things without any consultation from the rest of the protesters or the organizers.

There are occasionally a few who use violence in a disorganized way without consultation however they aren't the majority of those who employ violence in protest actions. In my experience violent protestors such as the black bloc groups are well coordinated and plan their actions in advance, consulting with other protest organizers. They still use violence however, so for those who say "consult" but mean "unconditionally accept the liberal sentiments of other groups organizing protests" then there will still be some disappointed liberals in the crowd, or staying at home instead.

Caissa

Is taking  violent aim at capitalist structures any different than  violently opposing an occupation ie. Gaza or West Bank?

Maysie Maysie's picture

Good question, Caissa, and to ask it in another way: Is the violence of the state so legitimized that any non-state violence in an organized way, even symbolic violence at a protest that doesn't cause death or harm to people, seen as always being not legitimate? So the structures of oppression that violently affect people's lives every day here in Canada, for example, must be met with politeness and reasonableness, always? 

 

WillC

I wonder what those who commit  property damage think they are accomplishing. They give the TV networks shots they seem to be interested in them.  There was a shot last night with a guy with a cut on his head, blood flowing down into eyes. "If it bleeds, it leads."

Another thing, they allow the media to focus on them, rather than the issues they bring.  In the nuclear disarmament movement we had in Canada a small offshoot of the Committee of 100, who engaged in peaceful civil disobedience. In so doing, we had television shots of the messages on our signs, and those messages had no other media coverage except through peaceful demonstration.  I've seen few shots of messages from these demos. The camera has focussed on people smashing windows, and trying to break through police lines.

 The establishment isn't afraid of getting a few windows smashed. The corporations don't care if some cops have a difficult shift.

The only persons who have accomplished anything in these "hey look at me I'm being kick-ass rebellious" faction of the demos are those cops who infiltrate and play agents provocateurs. They've helped obscure its message.

 

 

Caissa

Thank you Maysie for phrasing the questions so aptly.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

In response to the thread title question: I choose violence. Wink

Seriously, though, it's true that violence and property damage are counterproductive to the effective conduct of a demonstration, and ought to be discouraged. This is one reason why having numerous and well-trained parade marshals is so important.

But the real threat of violence always comes from the cops. They never have to worry about whether gassing, shoving, or clubbing demonstrators is counterproductive to the cause of maintaining the social status quo. The media will always side with them and blame the victims. By failing to acknowledge the real source of violence, Judy's comment lacks balance and perspective.

The police in London were [url=spoiling">http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2009/apr/01/g20-poli... for a fight[/url]. Their tactics were confrontational from the outset, and the demonstrators on the whole showed remarkable restraint in the face of police bullying and beating.

I'd like to see Judy directing some anger where it really belongs.

It's Me D

Good post M Spector.

It's Me D

Banjo wrote:
The only persons who have accomplished anything in these "hey look at me I'm being kick-ass rebellious" faction of the demos are those cops who infiltrate and play agents provocateurs. They've helped obscure its message.

Could you give me a quick listing of what non-violent demonstrations on these same topics (anti-globalization for example, or police violence) have accomplished? Just so we can compare...

N.R.KISSED

I think Judy's comments are naive and simplistic.

I think it's naive because regardless of intent the police will provoke violence as the piece Frustrated Mess posted. I don't think that responding to provactive violence of the state or even being prepared to respond should be vilified.

I also think it is naive to believe that if only we protests were sufficiently peaceful the media is going to be somehow sympathetic any kind of direct action is going to be overplayed and characterized as "violent".

I agree with Maysie that it is even more problematic in terms of the discourse around violence and what is constituted as violent. I do not think that actions against corperate or state property are acts of violence. Not only does it lend its self to propagating a belief in the santity of private property, such a discourse also tends to downplay the insidious nature and mechanisms corporate/state power and its expression of violence. Futhermore it lends itself  to a particular belief towards acceptable responses to violence, those who are victims of state/corporate violence are expected to respond calmly and passively, victims responding  to violence in kind are characterized as problematic. I think it is necessary to have broader discussions concerning the meaning of and expressions and mechanisms of violence that exist. A simplistic response merely reinforces the status quo. I was in Quebec in 2001 and I seem to recall Maude Barlow actually did validate the anger and frustration of the so called "violent" protesters.

Martin also makes a good point about "whose" protest is it? I am certainly not going to put myself in a position of judging marginalized groups response to state violence.

Just some quick thoughts from someone who actually personally considers themselves non-violent.

Michelle

Those are good points, about how state-sponsored violence is considered legitimate and any kind of fight back is not.   I agree with this.  I also think that people who are against using violence are not necessarily refusing to direct anger at the authorities over state violence.  It would be hard to argue that Judy doesn't denounce state violence when she takes actions like occupying the Israeli consulate.

Isn't there something to be said for the pragmatic argument against violence?  It's true, the media will always focus on violence at a protest if there is any.  Always, always.  We can rant about the biased media, but we could also choose not to feed them with such images to begin with.  Same with police violence and tear gas.  If there is no violence or rock throwing and the cops STILL throw tear gas at thousands of protesters, then at least the media and the police aren't being handed the gift of images of rock-throwing, window-smashing protesters to help them in their attempt to justify such police thuggery in the court of public opinion.

Michelle

It's Me D wrote:

Could you give me a quick listing of what non-violent demonstrations on these same topics (anti-globalization for example, or police violence) have accomplished? Just so we can compare...

Sure.  The peaceful anti-war protests in Canada against the war in Iraq that were tens of thousands strong (in 2003, I think) arguably influenced Chretien to keep our country out of the Iraq war. 

It's Me D

Michelle wrote:
Sure. The peaceful anti-war protests in Canada against the war in Iraq that were tens of thousands strong (in 2003, I think) arguably influenced Chretien to keep our country out of the Iraq war.

But the anti-war protests which employed "violent" tactics were a complete failure? Presumably resulting in Canada going to war in Iraq?

I'm having a hard time understanding how you know which protests were successful when there are always a variety of tactics employed in any major protest campaign.

I can tell you that peaceful anti-war protests failed to stop the war in Kosovo, or the war in Afghanistan. Though violent tactics also failed.

Michelle wrote:
If there is no violence or rock throwing and the cops STILL throw tear gas at thousands of protesters, then at least the media and the police aren't being handed the gift of images of rock-throwing, window-smashing protesters to help them in their attempt to justify such police thuggery in the court of public opinion.

Then the media will show footage of crowds fleeing from the police, mention the unspecified violent nature of the protest (without attribution to the police) and you'll still end up right where you were, only the police enjoy a free ride when beating non-violent protestors.

Michelle

I don't understand what you're asking.  You asked for an example of a peaceful protest that accomplished something.  I gave you one.   Now you're telling me that there are so many other peaceful protests that failed. 

Well, yeah.  Protests really don't do much, usually, except register dissent.  I suppose you could say that if that's the only goal of a protest, then destruction is just as good a way of registering dissent as peaceful protest.  But I think it matters, how the general public perceives the protest.  You may disagree with me on that, and that's okay too.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Michelle wrote:

Isn't there something to be said for the pragmatic argument against violence?

Certainly there is. I think the only real argument against it is pragmatic. But the problem with pragmatic arguments is that you have to get your facts straight. To suggest, as Judy does, that police violence in the G20 protests was a reaction to violence on the part of a few demonstrators ("the police almost always over-react") is to turn the matter on its head.

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

N.R.KISSED wrote:

I also think it is naive to believe that if only we protests were sufficiently peaceful the media is going to be somehow sympathetic any kind of direct action is going to be overplayed and characterized as "violent".

 It does. I've seen it happen both inside and outside the media. So standing around peacefully blocking a road, or blocking something turns into a discourse about people perpetrating 'economic violence' or 'violence' against other peoples rights to move around freely or some airy fairy concept that takes protesting into the area that it's  in and of itself a violent act because it scares people because heck it COULD end up getting violent. 

Caissa

This thread is interesting. It raises the question "What is the purpose of a protest?' I'd presume the answer in any given case should be what drives the tactics employed.

It's Me D

Michelle,

I 'm sorry if my intent was hard to understand, I was responding to a charge by Banjo that violent tactics in protest actions never accomplish anything. I was hoping he would contrast that with non-violent protests which accomplish something; you did and hence proved my point that whether or not any protests accomplish anything is debatable, and determining whether violent or non-violent tactics in a specific campaign resulted in its success or faillure is impossible. Your example of the war in Iraq is perfect, as there were protest actions of all variety; its impossible to say whether the violent or non-violent tactics were more effective. The idea that non-violent tactics are more effective is a myth; at best an unprovable assertion.

ETA: the point of the failled examples is to demonstrate that, no mater which tactics are employed, protests either succeed or fail on other merits, not on the basis of violence=non-violence. Would that things were so easy!

Krystalline Kraus Krystalline Kraus's picture

I have to agree with NRKissed and the others, that Judy is a little waif on this topic and the people who make up the black bloc being more than stereotypes...

one thing, too, about dialogue among protesters/the left...so much effort is taken to condemn any diversity of tactics that include violence and i think that distracts from the really needed discussion about POLICE BEHAVIOUR and the VIOLENCE they prepetuate AGAINST US at demos...i mean, we should be taking about the police's use of tasers and that new sound weapon they have.

It's Me D

Caissa wrote:
This thread is interesting. It raises the question "What is the purpose of a protest?' I'd presume the answer in any given case should be what drives the tactics employed.

That is a good point; and what if different groups involved in organizing protests have different purposes in mind for the action? 

Michelle

I agree with you about that, ElizaQ.  And I think people who are against destruction or violence at protests make a distinction between that and blocking roads or railroad tracks.  Certainly I do.

I also agree with you about calling destruction of property "violence".  I personally think that's kind of a sloppy construction, which is why I try (now I'd better check my previous posts) to call it what it is - assaults on people are "violence" (e.g. rock throwing) and assaults on property or buildings is "damage" or "destruction".  Sorry if I wrote anything sloppy above. 

Someone mentioned violent resistance to occupation, which I assume they were referring to Palestinians resisting to Israeli occupation since that's the usual debate that happens on babble.  I wouldn't dream of telling Palestinians (or Iraqis or Afghanis) how to resist the occupation of their countries.  I also wouldn't tell First Nations people in Canada how to resist the occupation of their lands here.  

I think there's a difference between looking at your own movement critically, and being critical of the struggles of other people.

Caissa

Or do the "organizers" of the protest have the right to direct the "protesters"?

Michelle

statica wrote:

one thing, too, about dialogue among protesters/the left...so much effort is taken to condemn any diversity of tactics that include violence and i think that distracts from the really needed discussion about POLICE BEHAVIOUR and the VIOLENCE they prepetuate AGAINST US at demos...i mean, we should be taking about the police's use of tasers and that new sound weapon they have.

Does talking about one mean you can't talk about the other? 

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

Michelle wrote:

I also agree with you about calling destruction of property "violence".  I personally think that's kind of a sloppy construction, which is why I try (now I'd better check my previous posts) to call it what it is - assaults on people are "violence" (e.g. rock throwing) and assaults on property or buildings is "damage" or "destruction".

You are doing violence to the English language.

Violence is not solely a matter of personal injury. A person can be violent without anyone getting hurt - indeed, without any property being damaged. But wilful property damage is certainly "violence", even if nobody gets hurt.

Jingles

Violence at protests is useless bourgeious theater. Those "black block" yodelheads haven't figured out that the state loves it when they start breaking stuff, for a couple of reasons.

First, it gives them the propaganda they need to paint all opposition as merely a few crackpots and not worthy of serious consideration.

Secondly, and most importantly, the state uses protests as a safety valve where opposition can vent harmlessly and in a controlled manner. The protesters feel good about themselves (despite achieving nothing whatsoever), the violent ones feel that they established their revolutionary cred, and the police can bust heads with impunity. The elites simply carry on, secure in the knowledge that they face no real or effective opposition to their aganda.

If those nitwits who think throwing bricks will have any effect, they are as deluded as those liberals who think they can work "within the system" for real progressive change.

If revolutionary violence is to have an effect, it has to target those institutions and people who run the apparatus of the state. That fact is that these institutions and people remain untouched and unpreturbedby the embarrassing impotence of the protest hooligan.

Michelle

Could be, M. Spector. I can see a good argument for that position from a feminist perspective, for instance. Certainly any woman who has been in an abusive marriage knows that smashing things and destroying her belongings can be violent. And I can see where smashing windows in a protest could be considered pretty scary by some participants, not to mention the people in the buildings (not all of whom are millionaire bankers or chain store owners).

I do think that some distinction should be made, though, between violence against people and destruction of property.

Ghislaine

That Ghandi...he never accomplished a damn thing. He really should have thrown a few rocks and smashed some windows...now there's a winning strategy!

 I think one thing that is missing from this discussion is the fact that people (of various classes/groups etc./) work in these targeted buildings. Throwing a rock and smashing stuff may only have an intention of property damage, but it also may end up hurting someone and be violent.

And, yes the RCMP as a whole, and other orgs like the OPP have been oppressive, violent, etc. But each police officer is an individual from various backgrounds. I hope no one here is condoning violence against them.

Ghislaine

I agree that a distinction between violence and property damage needs to be made. Especially given that our justice system gives harsher sentence often for property damage than for violence against women.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

"Violence" doesn't depend on the subjective reaction to it by an observer. It doesn't matter whether anyone is "scared" by it. A person locked up alone in a room can be violent without anybody witnessing it - indeed, without leaving any evidence of it at all.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

remind wrote:

Frankly, I do not believe that any great change will occur until people get extremely violent. Not that I want to see this happen, but in looking through history, social change to empower those in virtual slavery by those that have, has only come about through the use of vioence. It seems  working towards social equality and justice is NOT taken seriously until that happens.

This is why I say the only argument against violence in a demonstration is a pragmatic one.

Snert Snert's picture

Quote:
I was responding to a charge by Banjo that violent tactics in protest actions never accomplish anything. I was hoping he would contrast that with non-violent protests which accomplish something

Any times I've heard arguments from either side, they seem to revolve around effectiveness, with both sides arguing that the other has been proven ineffective.

This, to me, is like arguing whether aspirin, or vitamin C, is better at curing terminal cancer.  Ideally, we'd recognize that neither is really all that effective at curing terminal cancer.  But how perverse would it be if the "aspirin" proponents made their entire case out of the fact that "vitamin C has been shown to be useless, time and time again" and the vitamin C proponents' rebuttal was "then show us just one time that asprin cured cancer!"

I'm sure this will prove an unpopular sentiment, but I personally believe that most uncoordinated, individual violence or destruction really has little to do with "the cause", and lots to do with individuals feeling empowered, or letting off steam or impressing their friends.  Sorry.  But I just can't believe that when some dude takes it upon himself to smash a Starbucks window he's motivated more by a desire to contribute usefully to the cause than he is by an opportunity to have himself a moment. 

  

ElizaQ ElizaQ's picture

Michelle wrote:

I agree with you about that, ElizaQ.  And I think people who are against destruction or violence at protests make a distinction between that and blocking roads or railroad tracks.  Certainly I do.

I also agree with you about calling destruction of property "violence".  I personally think that's kind of a sloppy construction, which is why I try (now I'd better check my previous posts) to call it what it is - assaults on people are "violence" (e.g. rock throwing) and assaults on property or buildings is "damage" or "destruction".  Sorry if I wrote anything sloppy above. 

 No apologies necessary. I wasn't commenting on that distinction. In fact I missed that until you pointed it out.   I was mainly just commenting about how I've seen  discourse about protests being 'violent' or what is actually violence change or get scewed as being violent whether they are or not, sometimes with a lot of idiotic mental gymastics.  I have read about anti-war marches or tuition fee marches through the streets of a downtown city being 'violent' because they hamper the economy because they block or hamper people from doing their jobs.   It's silly I know but I guess my point relating to what NRKISSED comments is that people and sometimes media will go to idiotic extremes to paint a peaceful protest as 'violent' no matter what you do.   Of course if they agree with what is being protested that's a whole other story.  

remind remind's picture

M. Spector wrote:
remind wrote:

Frankly, I do not believe that any great change will occur until people get extremely violent. Not that I want to see this happen, but in looking through history, social change to empower those in virtual slavery by those that have, has only come about through the use of violence. It seems  working towards social equality and justice is NOT taken seriously until that happens.

This is why I say the only argument against violence in a demonstration is a pragmatic one.

Well, that is twice now today that I have agreed with you then. Amazing, actually. ;)

It's Me D

Snert wrote:
I'm sure this will prove an unpopular sentiment, but I personally believe that most uncoordinated, individual violence or destruction really has little to do with "the cause", and lots to do with individuals feeling empowered, or letting off steam or impressing their friends. Sorry. But I just can't believe that when some dude takes it upon himself to smash a Starbucks window he's motivated more by a desire to contribute usefully to the cause than he is by an opportunity to have himself a moment.

I don't know how unpopular it is, it seems the thread's split about 50/50. It is ignorant however, in my opinion, and shows very little understanding of both the level of organization which goes into most "violent" protest tactics, and the actual people who carry out these "violent" acts. I'm not about to repeat all my earlier posts on the subject but your condescension towards these people is misplaced; in my experience their motivation is rarely destructive and almost never self-agrandizing. Most of the activists I have known who embraced violent tactics come from marginalized and dispossed backgrounds (many being street people); most have been the victims (in many cases lifelong) of systemic and institutionalized violence. They don't take violence lightly.

saga saga's picture

"Gandhi taught us not to use violence,"

Violence from us has no place

Then comes the black bloc, that anonymous band of people who think they can spark a revolution by breaking a few windows and things turn nasty.

Violence has no place in our movements.

I've picked out these quotes from Judy Rebick's article to ask a question:

Who is "us"? Who is the "our" who claim to own the movements?

Do the (mostly) middle class protestors have a right to dictate to the lowest low income protestors, who may have very different experiences (eg, with cops)?

I tend to think of police as not the target as they are just doing their jobs, and decry those who make trouble for the police (and thus for the rest of us). Would I feel the same if I didn't have a stable home and income, and lived hand-to-mouth, constantly harassed by police in my daily life?

Nope. I'd likely also be flinging bricks and making life as difficult as I could for the police ... I think.

I think what I'm saying is I'm a bit disturbed by what I see as the 'elitist' attitude in that article.

The social justice movement belongs to no one group, least of all those of us who lead comfy lives that allow us the luxury of belonging to organizations and movements, and spending hours discussing issues, imo.

I've never participated in property destruction (that I recall) and I agree with others who say calling it "violence" is unnecessarily inflammatory.

I would distinguish between planned actions that make a specific point - eg against an aggressive capitalist institution -  and out-of-control riots that pay no attention to whose property is being damaged. However, I recognize that the latter usually develop in response to overly aggressive police actions, so I'm not totally condeming those actions either, unless they occur without police provocation.

Planned actions - such as the deconstruction of a McDonald's - truly appeal to me. I admit a fondness too for the hit-and-run anarchists in BC who consecutively threw bricks through the windows of some major financial establishments. The message was very clean and clear, and even the media got it right!

 

Snert Snert's picture

This could be a case of the blind men and the elephant, then, because my primary exposure to the mindset of some protesters came from reading their posts at various left wing sites.  For the most part, the people flipping cars, breaking windows at the McDonald's or defacing the Toronto Sun boxes seemed pretty pleased with themselves, and definitely in "boast" mode.  That their buddies would chime in with high-fives and whoo-hoos only supported the idea that these were unplanned, uncoordinated impulse actions that provided them with a sense of importance.

Missing entirely was any kind of analysis of strategies, outcomes or optics, unless someone criticized these actions, in which case the typical response was "don't tell me what to do, sell-out!"

Personally, while I wouldn't say that I *like* destruction, if it really is the result of some genuine community consensus (and I don't mean a community of 3 individuals, or a community of only Bloc members) then I'm happy to consider it on its own merits.  Violence (against people) I can't justify any more than I could justify vigilantism. 

It's Me D

Great post saga! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way.

It's Me D

Snert,

I'm not sure what to say about your experience in Toronto, hopefully one of the many Torontonian Babblers here will have something to add.

In my experience in Halifax your last paragraph is a better discriptor of reality: the "violent" tactics of property destruction arise from the lived experience of the community, like saga was commenting on above. Communities which are fighting for their very existance daily; and for whom there is no ally in the system (the police in particular).

remind remind's picture

Frankly, I do not believe that any great change will occur until people get extremely violent. Not that I want to see this happen, but in looking through history, social change to empower those in virtual slavery by those that have, has only come about through the use of violence. It seems  working towards social equality and justice is NOT taken seriously until that happens.

In today's world, just as it was during the Draft Riots,  the upper middle class have just as much to fear, as those who are the "elite" when those in virtual slavery, and those who are home dispossessed, have had enough. They benefit just as much from the exploitation and dispossession of others, as do the so called 'elite'. Unfortunately, the extremely marginalized  may also bear the brunt of the wrath, just as they did during the Draft Riots2 too.

The only way I can see to circumvent the eventual violence, is for the workers of the world to have a massive strike until the needs of those most hurt by the capitalist system are met, and/or social justice is understood to be the only way. Unless the working masses become unified in endeavors, instead of worrying about their puny position in the scheme of  capitalist,  and inherited wealth exploitation, there will eventually be massive violence towards all those that appear to have. And I can't say that I think those who have no other option would be wrong.

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