Why #OWS Needs to Denounce Violent Tactics on Display at Occupy Oakland
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The Occupy Movement, “the 99 percent,” has, ironically, been hijacked by a small minority within its ranks. I speak of a small percentage of Occupiers who are okay with property destruction. As we saw in Oakland over the weekend: They’re okay with breaking windows, trashing city buildings and throwing bottles at the police. In short: They are not nonviolent. They are willing to commit petty criminal acts masked as a political statement.
These are Black Bloc tactics and they're historically ineffective at spurring change. The now Gingrich-vilified Saul Alinsky in 1970 said the Weather Underground (the terrorist wing of the anti-war movement) should be on the Establishment’s payroll. “Because they are strengthening the Establishment,” said the “professional radical” Alinsky. Nothing kneecapped the call for the war to end quicker than buildings being bombed in solidarity with pacifist sentiments.
Here’s the key point: Occupy is not an armed conflict – it’s a PR war. Nonviolent struggle is a PR war. Gandhi had embedded journalists on his Salt March. He wasn’t a saint. That was a consciously cultivated media image. He used the press and its power to gain sympathy for his cause. What he didn’t do is say he was nonviolent “unless the cops are d*cks,” a sentiment voiced at Occupy. Nonviolent struggle has nothing to do with how the cops react. In actual nonviolent movements they welcome police overreaction because it helps the cause they’re fighting for.
At some General Assemblies this issue is referred to as “diversity of tactics.” It means basically if you’re not okay with property damage, but if someone else is, you’re not going to stand in the way. To a liberal ear it sounds like affirmative action or tolerance. It sounds like diversity of opinion – it’s not. It’s 3,000 people peacefully marching and two *ssholes breaking windows; which becomes 3,000 people breaking some windows in news reports.
Violent tactics taint everyone involved evenly – consenting or not.
Property destruction is not only a bad PR move (it costs taxpayers and small business owners money) it’s not constitutionally protected Free Speech. It’s also not what democracy looks like. The First Amendment specifically states the right to peaceably assemble to redress grievances.
Moreover the destruction of property is exactly what Occupy is protesting against; it’s what the banks took from us. Occupy has pointed out the criminality of the banks and the seeming collusion with government to take wealth and property away from working people and give it to the wealthy. So protest property crimes, by committing crimes against property? It's nonsensical.
Destroying property destroys moral authority. You can’t rail against Bankaneers while trashing a City Hall. You can but you lose. Then the cops look justified in their show of force. Being quiet is seen as consent and being in solidarity with Oakland is standing with their well-documented embrace of “diversity of tactics.”
Occupy should denounce violence and property damage. There should be a statement that Oakland doesn’t speak for the movement as a whole. Holding solidarity marches against Oakland police brutality is exactly what that sounds like. It sends the message that Occupy is happy to cost the Oakland taxpayers millions in damages. If Occupy is to succeed it has to purge the extreme (read: ineffective waste) elements now commandeering the movement.
Some have emailed me and asked if the people who autonomously did these acts of vandalism and violence were “undercovers” or extreme anarchists. My response has been their goal is the same and their tactics are the same, so why does it matter? If they’re undercovers trying to undermine the movement then disavow them. If they’re anarchists who believe they are a part of Occupy, disavow them. The distinction means little if the endgame and the solution are the same.