What Progressive Criticisms of Anarchists in Occupy Don't Understand: A Response to Chris Hedges
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Oakland's large, active, organized community of anarchists and other political radicals are just that: large; active; and, above all, organized. It is true that many are young, white and not Oakland natives, though they are residents. But many believe in community building and mutual aid. And many of those using black bloc at occupy protests are not necessarily anarchists.
Hedges "is really out of touch with anarchists today," says Simons, who dismisses John Zerzan, the anarchist ideologue Hedges points to as the Black Bloc forefather. "Anarchists were very important in creating Occupy Oakland. They were in some ways the initial glue that held the camp together" - the one Hedges applauds as having such "broad appeal" that cities were forced to shut them down using oppressive means. "Very quickly Occupy Oakland became much more than that, but you wouldn't have Occupy Oakland if it wasn't for those anarchists," says Simons.
The 99 percent is a poor class analysis, especially for troubled Oakland, but it does point to the broad coalition necessary to create change in America today. "In this situation, even to make the most modest gains, you have to bring about a force that's nearly a revolutionary force," says Simons. "We have to show that we can fully disrupt the system, even if we just want reforms."
Of course, many within Occupy Oakland do not just want reforms - they want revolution, insurrection, overthrow and smash. But there has been only one event where that group came out in a bloc and utilized the tactics that so trouble Hedges and other Occupy Oakland critics on the left and it happened in the middle of what is arguably still seen as one of the movement's greatest victories: the General Strike.
On November 2, an autonomously organized anti-capitalist black bloc marched through Oakland, destroying windows and other property at banks and, allegedly, strike-busting businesses such as Whole Foods.
The tactic, which emerged in the early 1980s in Germany among autonomist protesters defending squatters rights and anti-nuclear activism, hit America hard in the anti-globalization demonstrations of the late '90s, especially in the "Battle of Seattle," which resulted in heavy damage of multinational retail property in downtown. That November 2 march was arguably one of the most focused showings of stateside black bloc in a decade. That march resulted in the Oakland police calling in mutual aid, but it did not result in a discrediting of the national movement; tens of thousands still marched on the Port of Oakland hours later.
"That was at the height of the Occupy movement; that was as it was cresting," says Simons. "There was so much else going on, you couldn't isolate that and point to it as the singular problem. And now the militancy of Oakland is sort of like the only thing out there." The peaceful but militant blockade of the Port of Oakland on December 12, with its lack of union leader support, garnered Occupy Oakland more criticism than the black bloc actions on November 2.
Black bloc is not a lifestyle choice, but a tactical one. When a protester takes off their mask and unzips their black jacket - as many did after that November 2 march - they are no longer "black bloc." A protester who engages in black bloc tactics on one march may not choose to engage in them again on another.
Hedges condemns property destruction in political protest by condemning black bloc tactics, regardless of the facts. The "local coffee shop" vandalism Hedges contends was committed by black bloc was in fact one window of a corporate coffee chain smashed in that post-strike fog of war - and by someone not wearing a mask, not wearing black. The people who broke into City Hall on January 28, and many of those who destroyed property there, were also largely unmasked. And both of these acts came immediately after, as in within minutes of, violent mass kettling and arrest actions.