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Debating Violence in the Occupy Movement

Posted By on February 26, 2012

Occupy Oakland protestor

Occupy Oakland protestor

(This is the first of three posts regarding the “diversity of tactics” debate raging in the Occupy movement. Contrary to the myth promoted by the corporate media, the Occupy movement is alive and well and engaged in a multiplicity of creative movement building activities. The term “diversity of tactics” is used to distinguish tactics that include property damage and armed retaliation against the police from nonviolent direct action and extremist tactics such as planting bombs and armed insurrection.)

By now several thousands progressives and liberals have read the article The Cancer in Occupy Chris Hedges published on Truthdig on February 6th. It was subsequently reposted on a number of other sites. In the article, Hedges condemns the so-called “Black Bloc Movement” and “Black Bloc anarchists” for a variety of sins that include breaking store and car windows, burning flags, and swearing and throwing tear gas canisters at the police. There is a major problem with the whole premise of the article. As Hedges’ critics are quick to point out, “black bloc” (lower case) refers to tactics – there is no such thing as a “Black Block Movement” or “Black Bloc anarchists.” However unless they are regular readers of anarchist and left libertarian websites and blogs, activists are unlikely to have seen the numerous critiques of “The Cancer in Occupy” that correct this and other factual errors in Hedges’ article.

Hedges’ Numerous Critics (Besides Me)

The longest and most comprehensive critique of Hedges’ article, The Folly of Chris Hedges, appeared on Infoshop News later the same day. Infoshop News provides links to other excellent critiques of “The Cancer in Occupy.” Two of the best (IMHO) are an article by Don Gato on the AK Press website entitled To Be Fair He is a Journalist: A Short Response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc and magpie’s I am the Cancer (or ArmchairsGTFO).*

For me the major problem with “The Cancer in Occupy” is Hedges’ failure to acknowledge that 1) the debate over “diversity of tactics” (i.e. incorporating tactics other than exclusive nonviolent resistance) has been raging for months in local Occupy groups and 2) his views represent only one side of the debate. Contrast his Truthdig article with more objective articles in the Occupy Wall Street Journal and on the Occupy Oakland website that present both sides: Diversity of Tactics or Divide and Conquer and The Revolution Will Be Strategized: Reflections on Diversity of Tactics From NYC.

A Generational Split Over Diversity of Tactics

I first became aware of the “diversity of tactics” debate when Making Contact radio played excerpts from the December 15th forum “How Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down: Diversity of Tactics vs Nonviolence in the Occupy Movement.” (http://tunein.com/radio/Making-Contact-p1028/) There has been an erroneous assumption by many armchair liberals and progressives that commitment to exclusive nonviolent resistance is a basic tenet of the Occupy movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the vast majority of occupy protests have been nonviolent, Occupy movements in different cities have taken very different positions about their willingness to engage in corporate property damage and retaliation against police violence. As the WAMMM (Women Against Military Madness blog describes, diversity of tactics advocates are more likely to be young, newly recruited activists. Those favoring exclusive nonviolence are more likely to be older activists who have engaged in civil disobedience in the antiwar or nuclear movement.

A Range of Positions on Diversity of Tactics

Both Occupy Boston and the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park adopted statements in October 2011 endorsing a “diversity of tactics,” as opposed to exclusive nonviolence (see Boston statement of diversity of tactics and Occupty Wall Street Library).

In contrast, both Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy DC began with a commitment to exclusive nonviolence. However after the extreme police violence that accompanied the police crackdown on Occupy sites in many cities, both groups are revisiting this stance (see LA debates diversity of tactics and Should the Should the Occupy Movement Adopt Strategic Non-violence?

Prior to the December 15th public forum, Occupy Oakland had no formal position either way. The outcome of their “How Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down” forum was a refusal to endorse exclusive nonviolence. Occupy Seattle, which held similar internal discussions in December, took a similar position (see http://www.realchangenews.org/index.php/site/archives/6173/). Occupy Portland held a similar debate four days ago (see http://www.supportows.org/blog/occupy-oregon/important-to-attend-diversity-of-tactics-discussion-feb-21-tuesday-7pm-at-st-francis/).

* “Armchairs” refers to armchair liberals who critique activist efforts without ever becoming actively involved. GTFO translates to “Get the Fuck Out”

To be continued.


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