The events over the last few months — both in Vancouver during the Olympics and in Toronto and Huntsville during the G8/G20 Summits — have got a lot of people talking about protests in general and black bloc tactics in particular. Now, a lot of well-meaning people have said a lot of well-meaning things about these events… but unfortunately a good deal of those things are inaccurate, misleading and false. Sadly, having good intentions, an intelligent mind, and getting your picture taken next to some riot cops, doesn’t provide a person with the adequate foundation needed to accurately criticise contemporary movements of resistance. Of course, I suspect that a number of these well-intentioned people would come to agree with me if they actually spent any significant amount of time in communities of resistance (instead of simply engaging in a spectacular form of protest tourism) so I thought I would share some thoughts as a person who has been a little more intimately involved with these things. I will do so in a series of posts.
The biggest error made by those who criticise less-legal means of resistance is the assertion that these tactics somehow make other forms of protesting less effective. This is false. Further, to make this argument is to play into the hands of the Powers-that-be.
The truth is that all of our standard means of peaceful protesting — rallies, speeches, marches with banners and bands, and so on — are already completely ineffective. A good many actions like these occurred for years prior to the Olympics coming to Vancouver and they didn’t make a single bit of difference. Nor did the legal protests that occurred at the Olympics, or the legal protests at the G8/G20 Summits. What was very minimally effective in the 60s and 70s is not at all effective today. The Powers-that-be incorporated protesting into their way of managing our societies a long time ago — with the distribution of permits, police escorts (to ensure the safety of protesters), the designation of “appropriate” protest locations (again, for the safety of protesters), and so on — but it seems that most of us need to be reminded of this fact. Therefore, the point to be grasped here is that less-legal tactics do not make peaceful protests less effective — when something is already completely ineffective, it cannot be made more so.
Further, this helps to clarify why those who make this argument end up playing into the hands of the Powers-that-be. This occurs in a few ways:
(a) Making this argument encourages people to continue to invest time and energy into a futile exercise (“This really does work, as long as the anarchists don’t fuck it up!” being the underlying thought).
(b) Making this argument helps to maintain the illusion that we are living in a society that can be called democratic, in the sense that the individual members of a society actually have an influence upon the running of that society (when, if fact, this is not an accurate description of the society in which we live).
(c) Making this argument also leads people to blame themselves — or other members of the multitude — for the absence of change. Thus, the reason why the protests failed to create change in Toronto or Vancouver is said to be because of the deployment of black bloc tactics and other less-legal actions. Of course, the truth is that it is the Powers-that-be who are to blame for the absence of positive change, and this way of thinking only leads to division amongst those who resist.
So, this is lesson number one: less-legal tactics do not negatively impact the efficacy of other forms of protests.