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What Progressive Criticisms of Anarchists in Occupy Don't Understand: A Response to Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges' "Black Bloc" takedown is only the most recent in a series of critiques bashing anarchists within the national Occupy movement. Here's why they're not helpful.

January 28 was not supposed to turn out the way it did. After Occupy Oakland failed to occupy its first two targeted buildings and had a short-lived street battle in front of the Oakland Museum, police in riot gear contained the march of nearly 1,000 in a public park. There was a dispersal order, but no means of escape. Protesters with shields attempted to push the police line, which responded with several volleys of tear gas into the crowd, still trapped. Instead of enduring the gas, the crowd pulled down chain-link fencing that separated them from the street and safety.

As marchers, both masked and bare faced, continued north, taking the street, they chanted powerfully, suddenly and without reservation:

"When Oakland is under attack, what do we do?"

"Stand up, fight back!"

As the move-in committee said Monday in a statement on January 28: "This time, the chant was not an empty one."

Occupy Oakland, January 28, 2012. (Photo:  J. Paul Zoccali)

This principle, this fight, appears to be at the heart of recent critiques of "anarchists," "Black Bloc" and the tactics some choose to employ in political protest, especially in Oakland. Chris Hedges' "Black Bloc" takedown is only the most recent in a series of critiques bashing anarchists and "diversity of tactics" within the national Occupy movement since January 28th's fog of tear gas has dissipated. While previous criticisms came from the right or center of the political spectrum, these perspectives are arising from the left and mainly from journalists who have not been in the field to witness these tactics in action and within context.

Occupy Oakland, January 28, 2012. (Photo:  J. Paul Zoccali)

"A lot of anarchists today who are actively involved at all levels of the occupy movement - if you want to talk about inspiration, they look to places like Greece," says Tim Simons, an organizer with Occupy Oakland.

But so does Hedges. In May of 2010, amid global financial faltering,  Hedges celebrated the Greek insurrection:

"They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare - the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat."

But those strikes, riots and shut-downs in America are troubling to Hedges and other Occupy Oakland critics on the left. These critics focus on property destruction - such as the tearing down of those fences on January 28 - by perceived black bloc "hooligans" as a discrediting force in the movement, even while they understand the role of focused property destruction at, say, the Boston Tea Party, or in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union's struggle against EGT in Longview, Washington.

Occupy Oakland, January 28, 2012. (Photo:  J. Paul Zoccali)

What many activists find most troubling is not the conclusions those critics draw about tactical choices within the movement, but the lack of information they apparently have in arriving at these conclusions and a lack of interest in why those tactical choices were made in the first place.

For example, they find Hedges' conflation of political ideology and protest strategy, at its core, problematic, as well as his apparent misunderstanding of the local Oakland activist community.

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