United State of Emergency: Outlawing Dissent

During the 1967 Six Day War, a series of strict emergency laws were enacted across the Arab World, most notably in Egypt and Syria. Police powers became absolute while constitutional rights were suspended; any non-governmental political activity such as street demonstrations, rallies, protests, and organization of dissident political groups was quickly crushed by the iron fist of dictators. The laws were called temporary defensive measures, emergency acts that would be lifted once the nation was safe again.

The laws were simply left in place. The rulers of Egypt and Syria, content with their power, decided to concede nothing to their citizens. Tens of thousands of people found themselves imprisoned for extended periods of time, simply for demanding the principles of democracy already encoded in their constitutions or being critical of the government. The emergency laws provided these autocratic regimes with the authority to force their will onto to their people without opposition.

Under a president deemed worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, the will of the authoritarian tyrant caste is being written permanently into American law.

H.R. 347/S1794, otherwise known as the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011,” passed unanimously in the House and receiving only three negative votes in the Senate, makes it a felony—a crime defined by the federal government as punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year—to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.” The law makes no exception for demonstrators who unknowingly gather outside of federally-designated free-speech zones; you may not have willfully or knowingly done anything other than exercise your free speech and free assembly rights, but if you “in fact” “[impede] or [disrupt] the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions,” you’re going to prison. And since Obama’s ink dried on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and America was declared a battleground, you could be held indefinitely.

These laws would have made Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Civil Rights luminaries felons subject to indefinite detention.

When, and if, demonstrators get released from incarceration, they will continue to suffer the long-term legal consequences termed by prisoner-rights advocates as “civil death.” Felons are barred from multitude vocations, associating with certain people or even living in particular areas, ineligible to serve on a jury or receive government assistance, and even denied the right to elect their own public servants. As of 2008, over 5.3 million people in the United States are currently left without the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement. A sure-fire way of controlling political opposition is to deny it the ability to participate in political life.

Restricted areas spoken of in HR347, interpreted under existing law and court precedents, include any “building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” and “a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.” This definition, kept intentionally broad and vague, allows anti-protest measures to be applied at the whim of the political elite. Already in Chicago, Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel presides over crippling restrictions on public activity brought as a result of the upcoming NATO conference—and the simultaneous anti-globalization protests—on May 20-21st, 2012.

While the laws were called a temporary response to the G8 summit taking place in Chicago alongside the NATO conference, the Obama White House made a last minute decision to move G8 to the presidential compound at Camp David, a restricted military installation. The laws in Chicago will remain. Draconian laws enacted in the name of national defense in the Other Civil War are nothing new.

On September 14, 2001, President George W. Bush declared a national emergency due to the terrorist attacks of three days earlier. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 requires the President to renew this state of emergency on an annual basis if he wishes it to remain in effect; Bush renewed it every year he was in office and Obama has continued the trend.

The United States has been in a declared state of national emergency for the last 11 years.

According to Harold Relyea, a specialist working for the American government in the Congressional Research Service, the president “may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”

Combined with Patriot Act measures enacted by Congress under George W. Bush and extended by Obama, these laws provide a framework of surveillance and control only dreamed of in some Orwellian nightmare.

The nature of neoliberal globalization virtually ensures that fascist cartels will force their monopolies onto unwilling nations or unknowing populations; plurilateral agreements like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, are created in secret by leaders of a select handful of the wealthiest countries and designed with the intention of forcing them upon developing nations. ACTA includes provisions that profoundly restrict fundamental rights and freedoms, most notably the freedom of expression and communication privacy. It also severely restricts generic drug creation and use in underdeveloped countries. They are nonnegotiable.

Kader Arif, the European parliament’s rapporteur for ACTA, resigned from his position in January 2012 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

As with other undemocratic measures being passed around the world, HR 347/S1794 is a ruthless and reactionary law designed to eliminate political and economic dissent.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:

 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is little wonder that HR 347/S1794 has been called by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), one of only three members of Congress to vote against the bill, the “First Amendment Rights Eradication Act.” While the NDAA seeks to remove your 4th, 5th and 6th Amendment rights, this newest attack on self-determination is aimed at the heart of 1st Amendment rights including Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom to Petition.

The Supreme Court ruled in Boos v. Barry, 485 U.S. 312, 318 (1988), that protesting outside an embassy was worthy of Constitutional protection, recognizing that freedom of speech, even if it may interfere with normal governmental activity “reflects a ‘profound national commitment’ to the principle” and “‘debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’”

While the right to free speech, assembly, and the petition of grievances is enshrined in the US Constitution, the right of government to conduct its business without dissent is not.

In 1783, twenty-four year old William Pitt, then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was petitioned to change the law based on the “necessity” to save the East India Company from bankruptcy. His reply was brief.

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

The arguments of a tyrannical Congress would have you believe that HR 347/S1794 is a necessity, that demonstrations against the actions of government and business cause it undue hardship. While the government’s ability to permissibly restrict expressive conduct is limited by reasonable time, place, and manner regulations, the restrictions must, by law, be narrowly tailored to prevent unconstitutional adversity.

HR 347/S1794 flagrantly violates the First Amendment, since it is a broad and sweeping restriction based particularly on political speech in a public forum and not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

Of course, the crypto-fascists in Congress will argue that protecting themselves from the sight of the “unwashed masses” is a compelling state interest. They wouldn’t be incorrect. The nature of power is self-preserving; by surrounding themselves with a no-free-speech zone, the State can continue its self-congratulatory paternalism, content in the false knowledge that they’re “looking out for the little guy.”

The unconstitutional socio-political deprivation embedded in these authoritarian anti-Occupy laws would arguably be unfeasible without an almost complete blackout by mass media.

Media and communication play a central, perhaps even a defining, role in the ability of police-state measures to pass. Where is the outrage over the state of emergency laws that have gripped this country for almost a dozen years? How can unelected bankers wrest power from leaders in Greece, the birthplace of democracy, while the rest of the world fumbles with “austerity measures” to save their own necks? Consolidation of the global commercial media system can be easily linked to deregulation in the name of neoliberal “progress.”That deregulation—and the resulting monopoly that keeps alternate news sources like Democracy Now! and Al Jazeera English off the air—has allowed only capitalist rhetoric to flourish.

The business interests that control the mainstream media are the same that control the United States government. They will allow no dissent as they continue their war on liberty.

American anarchist Noam Chomsky, long known for his critiques of U.S. policy, has often written about the “manufacture of consent,” something propaganda maven (and Freud nephew) Edward Bernays happily called the art of manipulating people. In his criticism of the global commercial media system, Chomsky posits that mass media, as a profit-driven institution, tends to serve and further the agendas and interests of dominant, elite groups over the social well-being of entire societies. His writing firmly rejects the kinds of censorship that HR 347/S1794 proposes.

“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”

What does this mean for us? Simply put, this is not a battle of the Left versus the moderate Right. This is a direct attack on the United States Constitution, a charter written expressly to limit the government’s power over its citizens.

This is a war of the authoritarian oligarchy upon the principles of democracy.

Around the world, the working and middle classes have risen up against the duplicity of their governments, the engineering of political realities by corporate interests, and the social stratification enforced by capitalist exploitation. In the United States, both Occupy Wall Street and the libertarian wing of the Tea Party have demonstrated against the excesses of the US federal government. These protests, however, have been relatively small compared to the injustice being perpetrated upon the American people.

Organized labor has tried to make up for their decline in membership and economic power in recent years by abandoning any pretense of non-partisan organizing and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars of member dues money into the campaigns of Democrats. The opponents of organized labor are allowed to paint it as a partisan special interest group in the pocket of the Democratic Party. This has proven to be the case for far too long. The Democrats, in turn, have taken labor’s vote as a matter of course and done little to advance the political agenda of the working class. The vast majority of workers who remain outside of traditional unions see no use in joining one; management sees suppression of organization as just another cost of doing business. A return of radical unionization, exemplified by the Industrial Workers of the World call to organize the entire working class into One Big Union to abolish the wage system, would do much to stop the pitting of worker against worker, allowing for people over profit, cooperation over competition. The Preamble to the IWW Constitution still reflects this.

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Organized labor can, and should be, a force to reckon with. It cannot do so, however, as long as it continues to blindly support a party that has forgotten the farmers, laborers, labor unions, and minorities that have made up its traditional base. Regardless of whether organized labor feels it must undergo a transitional program from capitalism to participatory economics, it must divorce itself from unwavering allegiance to the Democrats. Labor would be more effective supporting individual politicians who promote a working class agenda, whether they are Green Party, Libertarians, Social Democrats, or independents.

Civil libertarian organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the First Amendment Coalition, and the Center for Constitutional Rights have a long history of defending the inalienable rights retained by—as opposed to privileges granted to—citizens of the United States under the Constitution. As nonpartisan organizations, they have the ability to denounce legislators of any camp for transgressions of civil liberties. It is expected that they will use test cases to undermine the illegal laws being propagated by the political elite; as part of a diversity of tactic, these kinds of cases should be applauded, even as the larger movement forges ahead with broader goals. Embracing different tactics allows radical proponents of liberty and democracy to work with mainstream advocacy groups to advance our larger strategy in accordance with our common goals. The Saint Paul Principles provide a framework for that cooperation without sectarian breakdown.

The fiscal conservatives, moderates, and libertarians who make up the Republican base have seen the party of Lincoln hijacked by social conservatives like Leo Strauss, who said the “crisis of our time” was a “permissive egalitarianism” embedded in liberal democracy and neoconservatives like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who prompted Reagan to givefinancial and material support to pro-Western authoritarian regimes.

Libertarians and fiscal conservatives have little in common with the state-enforced conservative social policies pushed by the religious right wing that seems to dominate the Republican Party. The interventionist war machine driven by neoconservative thought—to say nothing of the government intrusion into privacy via the Patriot Act, REAL ID, and NSA domestic spying program—runs contrary to principles of state sovereignty and self-determination held in high esteem by traditional conservatism, principles that Thomas Paine instilled into American body politic under the phrase “Common Sense.”

As encroachments on personal privacy and individual liberties continue, both the Democratic and Republican parties have forgotten their base: the working and middle class.

Communist Karl Marx borrowed the term “proletariat” as a description for the working class from the Ancient Roman Empire, whose rulers believed the only contribution the masses could make to Roman society was the ability to raise children to colonize new territories. The crypto-fascist authority today, encompassing both the Democratic and Republican Parties, continues this view; to capitalists, workers are not individuals but only the rungs of a ladder designed to lift them higher on the pyramid scheme of capitalist economics.

The time has come for the American middle and working classes to join their comrades in the campaign for liberty currently sweeping the globe.

 

H.R. 347/S1794, rightly nicknamed the “First Amendment Rights Eradication Act,” has been passed by both chambers of Congress. It now sits on President Obama’s desk, awaiting his signature. If his capitulation to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012—and its promise of indefinite detention—is any indication of his future action, he’ll sign it.

This issue transcends traditional party politics. Political opposition will be outlawed immediately. Pro-life rallies will effectively end with ban on public demonstrations, as well as pro-choice demonstrations. The government will not hesitate to prohibit any and all organizations it defines as dissenting or subversive, including alternative parties, labor unions, veterans’ associations, and others. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party can both kiss the promise of reforming government goodbye.

Congress has already declared America a battleground. They now want to silence us. It is time to bring the battle home.


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA) athttp://www.facebook.com/COBRACollective.

A Principled Stand on Diversity of Tactics: Avoiding Uniformity of Failure


The St. Paul Principles

1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups.

2. The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space.

3. Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.

4. We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others.

 


 

The recent wave of protests sweeping the United States under the banner of Occupy Wall Street—and elsewhere around the world under other monikers, like the Indignant Citizens Movement, ¡Democracia Real YA!, and the various blossoms of Arab Spring—has captured the imagination of millions on the egalitarian Left and libertarian Right. Inevitably, thankfully, it has also ignited fierce debate about the nature of sociopolitical and economic inequality and of democracy itself.  But as the cogs of corporate media seek to bewitch us with the specter of political gameplay, they also scheme to pacify the lonely rage of societies under fascist colonization by using an ancient tactic: divide and conquer. We are left to feed on one another like jackals.

Our strength—as the surveillance state well knows—lies in our solidarity. The IWW slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all” is apt; the people of Tunisia, frustrated by widespread poverty, political corruption, and poor living conditions, rose to defeat the iron fist of their dictator after the self-immolation of vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was ousted, in part, because of outcry over the brutal police murder of Khaled Saeed. Pictures of his viciously battered face, when added to growing social and political unrest, launched a wave of revolutionary fury.

It is no wonder, then, that the Occupy Movement gained its initial support when members of the New York City Police Department were caught on amateur video dousing peaceful protesters with pepper spray and beating others with truncheons. In Oakland, the community rallied behind protesters when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was critically injured by a police projectile. The City of Oakland, long known for the kind of illegal actions that gets one placed into federal receivership, turned a nonviolent gathering of its people into a war zone, complete with rubber-coated steel bullets, rifle-launched CS gas canisters, and explosive flashbang grenades. The Reich-wing assaults on liberty have united an erstwhile estranged citizenry; the American proletariat, like other people globally, is beginning to shake off useless notions of the intrinsic goodness of government.

Worldwide, people were sold on the idea that elections equal freedom, that representation was self-determination. We looked toward politicians to solve our problems and when they failed, we replaced them with other politicians. Regime change meant nothing.

The hollow promise of capitalist advancement has been revealed to be a pyramid scheme and the men behind the curtain are scrambling to use the mechanisms of authoritarianism in a last ditch effort to “restore order.”

Their order is, of course, unwinnable war, ecological disaster, and grievous imbalance of wealth and power. They use their established cultural dominance to justify their status quo as inevitable and beneficial to all, instead of as a social construct beneficial only to a handful of oligarchs. Futhermore, they maintain that false construct by painting their opponents as the bastard children of Chaos, violent and unorganized outsiders who have come to disrupt the natural state of things. They did it in Egypt, they’re doing it in Bahrain, and they’re doing it here.

That the people want violent upheaval is a lie equivalent to the neoconservative statement that “they hate us for our freedom.” There are no people on Earth who desire a permanent state of war—unless you buy the propaganda proclaiming that corporations are people and have equal rights, including the pursuit of happiness. Their happiness lies at the feet of the fascist state’s false god—terror in the name of national security.

Overcoming our fear doesn’t require a movement; it requires us to move. While Howard Zinn, author of You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train makes impassioned calls for “nonviolent direct action, which involve[s] organizing large numbers of people” he reminds us that those who question the war machine are often called “unrealistic” and advises his readers to keep all options on the table.

“To be “realistic” in dealing with a problem is to work only among the alternatives which the most powerful in society put forth. It is as if we are all confined to ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’, or ‘d’ in the multiple choice test, when we know there is another possible answer. American society, although it has more freedom of expression than most societies in the world, thus sets limits beyond which respectable people are not supposed to think or speak.”

To be “respectable” is all too often to sit on the sidelines of history, remaining neutral or moving at a marginally useful pace. However, if resistance movements are to avoid violence and bloodshed, they must work out ways in which the radical and the respectable can work, hand-in-hand, to both mobilize the greatest amount of people and, at the same time, remain an effective force for change.  Power concedes nothing without a demand.

The Saint Paul Principles provide a clear way to maintain that solidarity within the diversity of the movement.

When our movements split on sectarian lines, we save the enemy the trouble of dividing before they conquer us. In every resistance movement, the story becomes the same: the defenders of the status quo placate some of their adversaries, and then stop at nothing to crush those who won’t compromise. The opposition is divided in two by a mixture of seduction and violence. Energy is wasted in dispute and recriminations, each faction insisting the others are messing things up by “not getting with the program.”

Our task is to do away with exploitation and oppression, not reconcile ourselves with lesser versions of them. By supporting a diversity of tactics, activists gain the freedom to adapt to quickly changing situations; each tactic accomplishes a particular goal, contributing toward the larger goal. Diversity of tactic is truly an experiment in democracy, the process of solidarity spelled out with regard for the contributions of each of the people involved. By avoiding needless arguments on the merits of a particular tactic, resistance movements are free to focus on strategy—the culmination of tactical achievements towards to broader objective.

However, without general agreed-upon principles of unity, there is no movement—just collection of individuals in close proximity. Shared purpose is essential to community, however disagreed upon particular tactics are. Here we should keep in mind the words of English writer G.K. Chesterton: “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.

Direct action gets the goods and accomplishes that shared purpose. Utilizing the St. Paul Principles as a compass, different groups apply different tactics according to what they believe in and feel comfortable doing, with an eye to complimenting other efforts. Activists codified them in 2008 during demonstrations at the Republican National Convention as a way to have a concrete declaration of standards in the context of a broad spectrum of activists and to actively extinguish divisiveness from respective groups. They allow for organization to maximize our potential, without the paralyzing bureaucracy of hierarchical leadership. They work.

Tactics are not religion; everyone would be better off without treating them as if they are.

It behooves each individual to determine whether a particular action is a tactic that furthers the goal of the movement or particular grievance or whether such tactic acts as mere symbol. Acts that rely on symbolism are only effective if they bring inspiring attention to the cause; the occupation of Alcatraz by members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) brought the attention of the nation when it highlighted economic disparity on tribal reservations and the refusal of the US government to honor treaties it had signed with indigenous people. Effective resistance focuses on that sort of long-term strategy over ceaseless debate on tactic, allowing links to form between autonomous resistance groups to create larger coalitions within the working class.

Generally, violence on behalf of the State is not as open in the United States as it is many other places; sociopolitical hegemony ensures it isn’t often necessary. Therefore, it is often needless to blockade neighborhoods against paramilitary police forces, for instance. This is not the case in places like Syria, where harsh measures by the government silence dissent and a commitment to passive resistance could mean death. Diversity of tactic means flexibility in the face of inflexible violence. The specific context, time, and nature of the struggle dictate whether defensive measures such as the shields carried in Oakland to protect from riot police assault are necessary or not.

Coupled with respect for diversity of tactic is a separation of space. This seems to be the most misunderstood of the St. Paul Principles and, as such, it is the most important. Separation of both time and space ensures that peaceful marches, boycotts, and pickets remain peaceful—unless, as all too often happens—agents of the police state find it necessary to escalate towards violence, as they have in New York, Oakland, Bahrain, Tahrir Square, and elsewhere.

Keeping actions that may be deemed radical by reactionaries—like the appropriation of abandoned buildings for free social collectives like Infoshops and community organizing—separate from uncontroversial marches and pickets makes it less likely that the police will escalate their use of force. Unfortunately, it is no guarantee. The revolutions sweeping the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa have rulers quick to suppress any dissent, peaceful or otherwise. There is no such thing as American exceptionalism.

The Occupy Movement is an alliance of sovereign peoples coming together for a common cause. The individualism of its members, in the midst of a movement, must be recognized and respected. We gather under a common name, with similar goals, but with individual backgrounds, needs, and visions of the future. To achieve real and lasting peace, however, the branches of the Occupy Movement and its many members must stand in solidarity. Discussion is a necessary component of healthy democracy and should be encouraged. However, it behooves us to remember that the health of democratic movements is also impacted by the cancer of sectarianism. Internal divisions and rivalries will rip any movement apart at the seams.

Mahatma Gandhi named some of the roots of violence as wealth without work, commerce without morality, and politics without principles. The capitalist state uses violence to perpetuate itself and calls those who oppose it the perpetrators of violence. To guard against state repression of dissent, a certain security culture must be cultivated. Tactics such as the black bloc, which was developed by the Autonomist movement to combat fascism, are wonderful tools that can be used to protect protesters from governments who devoured George Orwell’s 1984 thinking it was a training manual. The surveillance state hasn’t been content to place CCTVs on every street corner; at every rally or protest, one is sure to find police officers filming the people gathered. It is not paranoia to think that dossiers are being assembled on “persons of interest.”

On the other hand, care must be taken to not succumb to an atmosphere of suspicion and fear. Assume that infiltrators are among you already and act accordingly.  It is counterproductive to avoid addressing injustice.  John F. Kennedy was correct in his assertion that “there are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.

To conquer what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism,” we must recognize human rights as our ultimate goal. We face a Leviathan that pits us against each other, eliminates us by co-opting our movements or brutally suppressing them, and does it by manipulating societal beliefs, explanations, perceptions, and values. To address the needs of the people, pacifism as pathology must be abandoned and a less dogmatic critique needs to be adopted and put into practice. A diversity of tactics, with the St. Paul Principles as a foundation to stand on, provides the freedom for that critique. And freedom is what we’re all about.


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Hedging Our Bets on the Black Bloc: The Impotence of Mere Liberalism

Chris Hedges has written some of the most insightful analysis of the U.S. war machine in recent years. His 2009 book The Empire of Illusion was an exploration of how exhibition has eclipsed truth and meaningful connection in American society. His acknowledgment of the ease in which one can buy into such spectacles is a small part of why it was so odd to read his article on Truthdig attacking both anarchists and black bloc tactics entitled “The Cancer in Occupy.”

It is patently clear that Hedges’ statements on anarchist theory and tactics of organizing are either false, unsubstantiated, or directly misleading. He has bought into the American Empire’s fallacy that direct action and organization in our communities is unfavorable and that submission to elected authorities is the only way to enact permanent change. But any legitimate critique of the black bloc that he manages to brush up against is quickly obfuscated by basing his conclusions on problematic assumptions and faulty definitions. It should be no surprise that Hedges, a proponent of statist solutions, should slander anarchism as a philosophy. But, for some reason, it was a surprise to many on the Left who follow his work. Here’s why:

Hedges’ Truthdig column titled, simply, “The Greeks Get It” (24 May 2010) showed a man then unafraid to take on rampant fascism, the insidious nature of capitalism, and the heavy hand of the police state.

“Here’s to the Greeks… 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.”

His recent demonization of the black bloc, therefore, is apparently more of the same “not in my back yard” brand of knee-jerk liberalism. This attitude is all too common among self-described members of the Left who celebrate certain tactics in other parts of the world or other points in history, but seem to place their own context in a place of American exceptionalism.

Rioting against austerity measures in Greece? Shutting down the city in Athens? It’s “liberation”. In Oakland, it’s “criminal” and “a cancer”.

Hedges continues in his article to lavish praise on Greek resistance but warns his readers of continued hardship in America and every other nation where economies are as rotten.

“…the corporate overlords will demand that we too impose draconian controls and cuts … the corporate state, despite this suffering, will continue to plunge us deeper into debt to make war. It will use fear to keep us passive.”

Nothing could be truer. The city of Oakland has long struggled with urban blight and high rates of crime and its residents, especially the roughly 35% of Black people that make up their population, are often the victims of not only violence by outsiders, but by the Oakland Police Department itself.

African Americans living in the East Bay are twice as likely to live in poverty, twice as likely to become victims of violent crime and twice as likely to be unemployed compared to other metropolitan cities on the West Coast. Latest census figures show Black people make up the biggest single ethnic group in Oakland at 27.3%, with white people at 25.9% and Hispanics at 25.4%.

Yet despite having almost the same size populations in the city, white people account for only 16% of OPD vehicle stops, and 6.7% of motorists searched. Black people in Oakland, by contrast, account for a whopping 48% of vehicle stops, and 65.8% of motorists searched. Oakland’s minority and poor populations didn’t begin this war.

Hedges firmly states in his column on Greece that “there has to be a point when even the American public—which still believes the fairy tale that personal will power and positive thinking will lead to success—will realize it has been had.”

Oakland has been had, time and time again. But her residents have risen like lions from their slumber.

Chris Hedges’ straw-dog argument that some “Black Bloc Movement” is responsible for tainting the message of Occupy is either plain ignorance—which is unlikely, given his otherwise informed reporting on American fascism—or intellectual dishonesty. Given the inaccurate assumptions and implications propagated by Hedges, it is necessary to clarify a few terms.

The black bloc is a tactic, not a group nor a movement. Its origins can be found in the Autonomism movement of 1970s Germany, where activists wore heavy black clothing, masks, and helmets to provide protection from the watchful eye of the authoritarian police state. Given the continued illegal actions of the Oakland Police Department—dealings deemed by the government as heinous enough to place the department under the oversight of a federal judge—it is no surprise that the residents of Oakland would want to protect themselves in this manner.

Hedges says that activists using black bloc techniques actively seek to destroy all forms of collective organization and engage in petty vandalism as a means of bringing on “the revolution.” This is a blatant falsehood. He quotes an anarchist writer using the pseudonym “Venomous Butterfly” as an example of how anarchists supposedly seek to obstruct progress, painting her dislike of Zapatista organization as characteristic of the whole of anarchist theory. But if Hedges had done any investigation worthy of being called “journalism,” he would find the following from Venomous Butterfly’s “Open Letter to the Black Bloc.”

“The purpose for wearing black has been anonymity and a visual statement of solidarity, not the formation of an anarchist army. […] As I see it, the questions those involved with the black bloc need to be asking is: how do we carry out this specific method of struggle in such a way that it reflects our aims? […] I reject the sad and desperate slogan, ‘By any means necessary’, in favor of the principle, ‘Only by those means that can create the world I desire, those means that carry it in their very practice as I carry it in my heart.’”

Indeed, activists using black bloc—who are not all anarchists, mind you—realize the strength that lies within mutual aid and collective organization. Without a structure to transfer ideas into action, one is paralyzed and cut off from potential.

Hedges makes a surprising choice in his recent article by interviewing Derrick Jensen, an author who claims to wake up each morning with the heartbreaking decision between continuing to write or blowing up a dam. In his book “Endgame,” Jensen asks: “Do you believe that this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?” His next question is: “How would this understanding—that this culture will not voluntarily stop destroying the natural world, eliminating indigenous cultures, exploiting the poor, and killing those who resist—shift our strategy and tactics? The answer? Nobody knows, because we never talk about it: we’re too busy pretending the culture will undergo a magical transformation.” Endgame, he says, is “about that shift in strategy, and in tactics.”

Making a central part of your column opposing violence a discussion with a man who says that “violence can be like sex: a sacramental, beautiful, and sometimes bittersweet interaction” is an interesting selection.

Hedges continues that the “Black Bloc movement is infected with hypermasculinity.” In using such gendered terms, he furthers the notion that people—in particular, males—are inherently violent and damaged beings. He describes the notion of masculinity as one that drives the black bloc to fulfill the “lust that lurks within us to destroy, not only things but human beings.” He ignores the participation of feminists and queers who are often participants in the bloc, rather than choosing to view individuals as members of a homogenous mass. Nonwhite, non-male participants are categorized as victims of “white, masculine aggression,” not recognizing the contributions of marginalized groups against rampant corporatism. There is also no acknowledgement of the fact that the bloc has been used primarily as a defensive technique against the violence of the State and not as an offensive measure against people. Hedges ‘ insipid sexism is not lost on the diverse crowds utilizing this tactic in recent marches, who were found chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay / NYPD go away.”

While individual members of the bloc have indeed done damage to multinational banks and other predatory businesses, Hedges, like many members of the mainstream media establishment, ignores the fact that strategic property damage is part and parcel of a long history of nonviolent struggle. From the Suffragettes attempting to gain the right to vote, to environmental activists protecting the rights of nature, property damages inflicts financial costs upon entities that only care about their bottom dollar. Martin Luther King Jr. had this to say about the struggle for human rights against the corrupt system of his time:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Anarchists don’t oppose nonviolent methods of organizing. Hedges is engaging in binary thinking that has him convinced that participants in the black bloc don’t do anything else. He ignores years of alternative structures like Food Not Bombs, hundreds of Infoshops that provide literature, bike collectives, food cooperatives, and groups that provide services for marginalized groups. Anarchists, like many others, believe in a diversity of tactics. It is this diversity that is our strength. We cannot allow slander and fear to separate us; sectarianism is the real cancer of Occupy. The enemies that we face—fascism, authoritarianism, militarism, and the like—are legion in their attacks; our response should be equally multifaceted.

At one point, Hedges blames the black bloc in Oakland for overreaction by law enforcement and frames the police violence as something caused by militant action. He ignores weeks of self-sufficient organizing in Oscar Grant Plaza, complete nonviolence resistance by Scott Olsen—a veteran marine who was critically injured by police projectiles, and months of attacks on other Occupations nationwide.

He says that this police violence will “frighten the wider population away from Occupy” and follows, in his next paragraph, by saying that the explosive rise of the movement was the result of pepperspraying of two young women in New York.

So, his position is that violence by police will both scare people away and win them over to you? This thinking is indicative of the slippery argument put out by ideological pacifists who have no grasp of history. It is typical flaccid liberal double-think; the fault lies not with the ruling class for establishing and directing a police state, nor with the police themselves for acting like thugs and fascists—no, the fault lies solely with protesters who defied authority and therefore brought down the violence of the state. “Look what you made them do.” This is the thinking of the beaten wife, the mindset of the victim. We are not victims of brutality on behalf of the State, but survivors of it.

The article ends with a quote by Derrick Jensen, a man who has written so eloquently of the dangers of industrial civilization and the need for immediate action:

“…we have to go through the process of trying to work with the system and getting screwed. It is only then that we get to move beyond it.”

The abuses of fascist government, capitalist feudalism, and paramilitary police forces have shown us that the system is not broken, but built to serve someone other than us. Hedges was correct when he said they would use fear to keep us passive. We are not afraid anymore.

(This article is reprinted with permission of Zakk Flash and was originally published here.)

 


Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance at: http://www.facebook.com/COBRACollective