The alleged assault on secretary of education Betsy Devos by a protester blocking her entrance to a DC public school, was just one in a series of recent incidents where the Left’s protests have crossed the line. “Black bloc” anarchists used violence to shut down a troll at Berkeley, you can also see one of the frequent Oakland Unified BAMN protesters seemingly assaulting a trump supporter last year, and there was this viral video of a Nazi getting punched.
While I do get some inappropriate giddy feelings to see Nazi’s get punched. It’s wrong, and I know it’s actually not helping. In fact it probably hurts our cause, feeding the resentment and stereotypes that have created this reactionary moment in American history.
We should be on the right side of history. This moment too shall pass. And these times will likely be judged by historians as dark days of the Republic. Whether the Left emerges as just another bully or a principled opposition depends on us.
What language of protest?
Growing up I was more “the ballot or the bullet” from Malcolm than, the principled non-violent civil disobedience of Dr. King. And I don’t rule violence out as a final answer, or self-defense. As Malcolm said you need to answer in the language that the oppressor will understand, and at times when the naked violence of the State is exposed we need to fight back.
As Malcolm said, “(w)e will work with anybody, anywhere, at any time, who is genuinely interested in tackling the problem head-on, nonviolently as long as the enemy is nonviolent, but violent when the enemy gets violent.”
And despite the hyperbole in the media, that is not where we are right now. Yet.
We are still in Dr. King’s paradigm, or should be, using non-violent disruption to expose moral truths. As stated in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail,
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue…I must confess that I am not afraid of the word, tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive tension that is necessary for growth… the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
Flooding the airports with bodies and shutting down the international terminals every time folks are detained, highlights the illegality and unfairness and showcases the stories of our brothers and sisters. We need more strategic and coordinated direct action to continue to expose truths. Breaking widows at a public university or attacking some peaceful but misguided crackers is a distraction that takes the debate away from our issues, and gives the moral high ground to those who really have no claim to it.
Are we getting played?
Back in the day, when I was a more active protester, we knew there were agent provocateurs in the crowd. They would say the craziest shit, challenge the legitimate leaders, and were planted to actually derail or delegitimize the protests.
When I see a bunch of seemingly White folks covered in Black, playing right into the hands of the right wing media, while claiming to speak for Black and Brown folks rights, my Spidey sense starts to tingle.
These are not folks who are down like John Brown. They are not there volunteering with kids or espousing Black liberation, they are throwing rocks, often at Black and Brown folks who are at work trying to make a living. And in Oakland or Berkeley the cops probably agree with the sentiments of the crowd.
For those long in tooth like myself, you may remember COINTELPRO, the government’s largely successful effort to discredit social movements in s the 60s. Here are a couple of the key tactics, from Brian Glick’s The War at Home
- Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.
- Psychological warfare: The FBI and police used myriad “dirty tricks” to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists. They used bad-jacketing to create suspicion about targeted activists, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Whether this actually is a new kind of COINTELPRO or not, we need to shut it down.
The troll won at Berkeley, gaining a national stage for drivel. Betsy Devos went in to a side door of the school and the meeting still happened. You can punch a Trump supporter, but he won the election. Those tactics aren’t working, except to elevate trolls, Trumps and neo-Nazis.
First, these “Black Bloc” folks need to change their names to the “White Bloc” we don’t want to be associated with you. From what I see you aren’t Black, and you aren’t asking the Black community what we want or even pretending to listen. We want nothing to do with you, even in the coincidence of the name you chose.
Second, we need to police our actions and protests, even if there is no leader. If peaceful actions are disrupted by idiots, those idiots need to be disrupted by the community. If people are afraid to show their face, they should be confronted in the crowd, if folks start breaking shit or attacking peaceful people, we should conduct a citizen’s arrest and hold these idiots for the cops.
Third, they need to know they aren’t welcome at community events if they can’t be part of the community. If they want to do their own violent protests at Trump Tower, or out in Walnut Creek (BofA’s home office) or Wells Fargo or wherever—they should do those themselves not hijack the legit protests of the community.
We need to stand together in resistance. And we need to act. But if we sacrifice our principles in the process or allow ourselves to be manipulated, we will definitely lose the battle, and may lose the war.