I think we should form our own riot control squads. The police have become the main purveyor of violence at all protests and we need a democratic use of violence to reassert our right to exist as a movement. Protestors should dress up in homemade riot suits and march around other protestors in mimicry of the police. Never should they charge or start a confrontation. But always shall they guard against protestors being beaten like this, at the Berkeley campus last week.
Read below to clarify.
Violence is always the first subject of discussion when any real attempt at change is fomented. Every movement takes a stance on it. Occupy Wall Street has taken a clear stance in favor of non-violence while the philosophical groundings remain varied within the group. This essay is not advocacy for violence. It is a reinvestigation into how it functions at the level of a police confrontation.
In full disclosure I think it is ignorant and privileged to condemn violence as a political tool in all instances; we have no moral right to condemn the overthrow of the Czar in the winter of 1914 or the black rebellions in our own country. Angela Davis puts it best,
“I mean, that’s why when someone asks me about violence, I just — I just find it incredible, because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country…” (continued...)
However, I agree with protestors at Occupy Wall Street, there is nothing to be gained by violence in their movement; it would be amoral in the sense that it is unnecessary, not to mention aa poor strategic move, potentially alienating to the American people.
Having said that, we are getting the shit beat out of us. Our encampments are being trampled and our projects actively being destroyed. We have few legitimate weapons today, any attempt at deterring or responding to police violence would be decried as illegitimate. We are facing the state monopoly on violence.
Antonio Negri and Micahel Hardt put forth a very simple defense of violence in their book Multitude:
“The disobedience to authority and even the use of violence against tyranny is in this sense a kind of resistance, or defensive use of violence.”
Violence has the dual nature of destruction and protection but violence never creates anything.When out goal is to create a better society, we shouldn’t use violence. However, when we have actively built a community where homeless people are being fed and daily experiments in communal living are undertaken, a defense is needed. Even Gandhi said,
“I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence…”
A notion of defensive violence coincides with a broader understanding of violence, put forward by Slavoj Zizek in his bookLiving in the End Times:
“In order to grasp this parallax nature of violence, one should focus on the short-circuits between…power and social violence: an economic crisis which causes devastation is experienced as uncontrollable quasi-natural power, but it should be experienced as violence. The same goes for authority: the elementary form of the critique of ideology is precisely to unmask authority as violence…”
When we come to understand the crashing economy and system of inequality as a violence equal if not greater than the police repression we face, our move to defend whatever positive creation, like the community at Zuccati park, increasingly appears moral to us.
Our synthesis is made clearer by Hardt and Negri when they describe the task of the left today as “the search for and experimentation with new weapons”. They again do us the favor of offering their experience with Italian activist in the 90’s, the last time there was an active movement against the status quo. They analyze a group who called themselves The White Overalls:
“The White Overalls movement first appeared in Rome in the mid-1990s when the traditional parties and organizations of the Italian left were becoming increasingly marginalized. The White Overalls, from the beginning, claimed no political affiliation with any other political groups or parties. They claimed they were the "invisible" workers, since they had no fixed contracts, no security, no basis for identification. The whiteness of their overalls was meant to represent this invisibility. And this invisibility that characterized their work would also prove to be the strength of their movement.”
There a clear parallels (especially for the oppression we students are familiar with, as chronically underemployed and excluded from the social space) such as an institutional anemia that left the people of Italy without a voice. It is clear that the White Overalls were responding to a similar situation. This is why an investigation into their tactics is useful to us. Particularly this part:
“That is when the serious conflicts with the police began, and the White Overalls came up with another stroke of genius of symbolism. They began to mimic the police spectacles of repression: when the police put on their riot gear to look like Robocops behind their Plexiglas shields and armored vehicles, the White Overalls too dressed up in white knee pads and football helmets and transformed their dance trucks into monstrous mock battle vehicles…”
Here, we find an example of tactical innovation, something that is desperately needed. The protestors have been kicked out of Zuccatti and Oakland Mayor Quan has revealed that many city leaders have collaborated on methods of dispersing these communities, saying they no longer belong to the people who started them and have been hijacked by violent anarchists. Ouropponent is innovating and we need to be doing so as well. Our opponent prefers to take pages from the books of police states, but we can in contrast learn from other activists. That is what Occupy Wall Street has accomplished, creating a global community of resistance, as Angela Davis put in her article this week about her visit to Occupy Philly:
“At the site, I reflected aloud - with the assistance of the human microphone - on the differences between the social movements with which we have become familiar over the last decades and this newly-grown community of resistance…The Occupy activists and their supporters have brought us together as the 99%. They call upon the majority to stand up against the minority. The old minorities, in effect, are the new majority. There are major responsibilities attached to this decision to forge such an expansive community of resistance.”
Perhaps what will guarantee our survival as a movement is that we will be different than the past. But only because we do better, and learn faster. Not because we try the same things over and over.
Who will watch the watchmen? We should take it upon ourselves to create a REAL POLICE FORCE, one that checks the main purveyor of violence at these protests, and that is the police themselves. This is the ironic power of the White Overalls that Hardt and Negri outline: the media refers to the protests as violence, while pepper spray and batons are called public service. In a reversal, we mimic police to protect the public from violence, to stop conflict, revealing the inherently militarized nature of the police.
It will take courage. This is in a way more difficult than simply getting beaten and dragged away. This is why it hasn’t been done. But the police are trying their own tactics, are growing and changing to defeat the developing community of resistance. This week on Democracy Now! Amy Goodman interviewed Steven Graham about his new book called Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, which is about the police and their increasing investment in new markets of surveillance and “non-lethal weaponry” and their collaboration with the FBI, CIA (recently to evict occupiers...), and even military counter-insurgency experts as they develop new tactics and strategies for containing and defeating political unrest.
In his book American Counter-Insurgency, in Chapter 2,Roberto Gonzalez shows how the academic research by military think-tanks concerning counter-insurgency for suppressing political resistance in occupied countries like Iraq works on a two way street. Methods of control used by the military were first theoretically tested by retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters on a hypothetical resurgence of the Black Panthers in domestic urban centers in an article called ‘The human terrain of urban operations’ (2000). In turn, today, police innovate through collaborating with studies done in countries the US now occupies. (find article here)
All this to show is that in the face of ever improving police and control apparatus, it seems naïve and ignorant, if not outright stupid not to experiment with as many new methods of resistance in turn, especially when we consider the asymmetry of this struggle. With a closing quote from Hardt and Negri,
“To these three principles any democratic use of violence must also add a critique of arms, that is, a reflection on what weapons today are effective and appropriate. All the old weapons and methods are still around, from passive resistance to sabotage, and they can still in certain contexts be effective, but they are not at all sufficient. Leon Trotsky learned his lesson in the Russian Revolution of 1917-" A revolution ," he says, "teaches you the value of a rifle" but a rifle does not have the same value today as it did in 1917… We need to invent new weapons for democracy today.”