Why I Don't Trust "Isms": Chris Hedges Versus The Black Bloc

Originally published by CounterPunch – Editor Jeffery St Clair

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/hedges-vs-the-black-bloc-round-two/

by MARK TAYLOR-CANFIELD

A recent article by Chris Hedges is once again causing heated arguments among activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  “Black Bloc: The Cancer in Occupy,” was published in his syndicated Truthdig.com column back in February, but folks are now talking about it again at political organizing meetings and on social networking websites. After Black Bloc Anarchists broke windows, vandalized cars and assaulted members of the press during May Day protests in Seattle and Oakland, the issue has taken on a new urgency among occupy groups around the country.

Hedge’s scathing critique of these tactics has been challenged by many people who sympathize with Anarchist philosophy. Most occupiers in the major cities have adopted a policy of neither condemning nor endorsing Black Bloc actions because they usually vandalize only corporate banks and businesses. But the truth is, many occupy activists and most of the general public are turned off by acts of property damage committed as a form of protest. Black Bloc tactics have been criticized by some Occupy Seattle activists and Chris Hedges claims it is responsible for chasing the 99% away from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In my opinion, Hedges’ article was a purely emotional response to the Anarchists. Rather than using good research and obtaining first-hand knowledge, he simply wrote from a gut level reaction. Hedges later admitted during an interview posted at Truthout.org that he hadn’t spoken to any Black Bloc activists before writing the article. He says he listened to about four hours of Anarchist radio out of Eugene, Oregon and read some magazines and websites. Supposedly, the Black Bloc are a direct threat to the power of what he calls the “organized left” – a group in which he seems to claim membership.

Actually, I am getting really tired of ideologues of all persuasions, including Chris Hedges.

I don’t trust any “ism”!

First of all, a true anarchist would never identify themselves with a political or philosophical label because that in itself is highly limiting. Society will immediately identify and categorize you depending upon their view of that political philosophy. I simply refuse to be labeled, folded, spindled or wrapped in anything besides my own skin!

Call me whatever you like, but you’re probably wrong.

I prefer to build bridges and work with as many groups and individuals as possible while never permanently adhering to anyone’s religion, whether it be Christian fundamentalism or Anarchism. Also, I find that most people’s political or non-political affiliations are almost always based on their own psychological profile. People choose politics according to their own personal style. A left-brained materialist might find conservatism appealing while a free thinking artistic adventurer is probably not going to have much fun at a GOP fundraiser. In my view, political and philosophical distinctions are basically natural byproducts of the personality of the individual.

Ideologues refuse to accept this fact. They can’t resist the urge to lead irrational crusades in an attempt to either win everyone over to their way or thinking, or to destroy the opposition. As two prime examples, I cite both the fanatical US corporatist “War on Terror”, and their Islamic extremist enemy Al Qaeda.

Ideologies are simply theories, many of which have never really been put into practice. Theoretically, many of them sound great. But these same ideologies are also responsible for a lot of mass suffering and destruction on this planet. Communism was invoked under Stalin to justify the deaths of millions of people. The Christian dominionist ideology has been responsible for religious wars and widespread ecological disasters. Inevitably, those who claim to have the answer to all of the world’s problems are actually the ones who end up causing a lot more suffering by their proposed solutions.

I say, free your minds! Don’t allow any person, organization, philosophy or authority to determine what you think.

The main problem I have with many of the “isms” being promoted within the social justice movement is that they are based on archaic, antiquated philosophies. Quoting dead writers from decades or centuries past is not an adequate response to the serious environmental and social crises we are facing in the world today. Doesn’t anyone have an original idea?

Anarchism, socialism, communism, capitalism, libertarianism, etc. are all just more “isms” that limit free thought through peer pressure and self-perpetuating propaganda. I know that some will accuse me of being a “deconstructionist”, but I also reject that label as purely fashionable and ultimately irrelevant.

I try to avoid accepted political terms or labels whenever possible when I speak or write. I want to reflect reality, not ideology!

But this doesn’t mean I consider myself a cynic. Actually the opposite is true. I am dedicated to upholding ideals concerning justice, autonomy and personal freedom. It’s just that I don’t expect any particular spiritual, political or economic philosophy to solve all the world’s problems and create Heaven on earth for me overnight. To me, those kinds of false expectations are based on immaturity. It comes from an uninformed but very popular point of view which sees a solution to everything in one powerful man or woman, one political philosophy or one religious doctrine.

And what about the idea that there is going to be some kind of glorious revolution which will solve all of our problems?

Well, if the revolutions in the USA, France, Russia, Tunisia and Egypt are any indication, it looks like multiple uprisings will be necessary in order to maintain any semblance of the original resistance movements. The struggle for justice is an eternal battle that requires constant vigilance and strong dedication. The battle is never completely won but it is certainly worth fighting!

And a life without “isms” is its own reward. Avoid them and live free!

Mark Taylor-Canfield is an independent journalist and a member of the Occupy Seattle Media Working Group.

Originally Published @ Counterpunch.org

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/hedges-vs-the-black-bloc-round-two/

May Day In Seattle – Mayhem and Media Spin

On May 1st 2012 activists all around the globe gathered to celebrate May Day, a pagan holiday that has become a traditional date for insurrection and revolution.

In 1886 the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago heralded a new era of uprisings by labor unions after a rally against police brutality turned violent. Workers at the McCormick farm machine factory were striking for an 8 hour day. A huge march was held on May Day to celebrate the labor uprising. Two days later a person was killed at labor protests outside the McCormick plant.

On May 4th a demonstration and rally was called to protest police brutality. When police tried to disburse the crowd, a bomb was detonated. Police fired into the crowd and by the end of the melee eleven people were killed, including seven police officers. Later reports suggest that some of the cops were probably killed by bullets fired by their fellow officers.

A controversial trial ensued and four “Anarchists” were hanged. Labor leaders and the famous attorney Clarence Darrow petitioned the governor to grant clemency to three of the prisoners. In 1893 Governor John Altgeld granted them clemency. He claimed the trials had been unfair and were a miscarriage of justice. Altgeld was thereafter forever branded by conservatives as the “friend of Anarchists”. His statement on the pardons:

“It is further shown here that much of the evidence given at the trial was a pure fabrication; that some of the prominent police officials, in their zeal, not only terrorized ignorant men by throwing them into prison and threatening them with torture if they refused to swear to anything desired but that they offered money and employment to those who would consent to do this. Further, that they deliberately planned to have fictitious conspiracies formed in order that they might get the glory of discovering them.”

On May Day 2012 Occupy Seattle responded to a call out from Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street for support for a “general strike”. A day long series of rallies, concerts and marches were staged, and although the general strike idea never really came to fruition, a small group of people practicing “Black Bloc” tactics managed to gain the attention of most of the world’s media by smashing windows in the downtown Seattle business district.

Around noon an independent march against capitalism set off from Westlake Park and headed south on Fourth Avenue. Within an hour, windows were broken at the Jackson Federal Building, the old federal courthouse and at several downtown corporate businesses and banks. Cars were also vandalized in the area. The Federal Building was immediately evacuated and Mayor Mike McGinn declared a state of emergency. Police were given the extraordinary power to confiscate anything capable of being used as a weapon – sticks, flag poles, rocks, hammers, etc.

Even local self-proclaimed super hero Phoenix Jones got into the May Day action. He managed to pepper spray a few of the Black Bloc marchers outside the old courthouse where protesters were busy creating new business for local glass makers by smashing out windows with the poles on their black and red banners.

Meanwhile, Westlake Park remained a green zone where May Day participants listened to some of the most talented hip hop artists in Seattle performing live onstage. The atmosphere was joyous as folks danced, partook of the free food and greeted one another with the love that only comes from solidarity in a mutual movement for peace and justice.

The Hip Hop Occupies group held down the home front with a great line up of speakers and entertainers, including former Black Panther member Aaron Dixon.

Dixon stressed the idea of reaching out to the community. “I’m not talking about a violent revolution,” he said. “What we need is a peaceful social revolution that will transform society. We need to feed folks and offer benefits to the community. If we don’t show that we are a benefit to the community, why should they support us?”

The rest of the day remained peaceful as protesters marched and rallied for workers and immigrant rights, but the incidents of property damage were reported by mainstream media as “Mayhem on May Day in Seattle”. If you listened to the local news reports, you would have thought that the anti-WTO riots had risen again. There was tear gas in the streets, small fires on the sidewalk, and black clad anarchists attacking Nike Town and shoving news cameramen to the ground.

The corporate media had a field day reporting on the “Anarchists” and the damage to downtown businesses. A KOMO TV reporter asked “Will companies leave Seattle because it’s not safe to do business here?”

I could only think to myself, “This is exactly what the Black Bloc probably wants to hear in the media.” In other words, the reporter may have been unwittingly supplying encouragement for their next outing…

Within the Occupy Wall Street movement a debate has been sparked once again over Black Bloc tactics as a means of expressing opposition to corporate power. Mainstream liberals and progressives are very worried that these small fringe actions will alienate the 99% and leave the activists vulnerable to police and federal harassment. The radicals however, believe in the concept of “diversity of tactics”. While not advocating or endorsing any property destruction, they see it as the natural result of political and economic repression by the ruling class.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that even iconoclasts like Chris Hedges are struggling with the idea of riots and breaking windows. While I must admit that Hedge’s February column on the Black Bloc was not well researched, his personal emotional reaction to them does highlight many of the concerns of participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement. While it must be pointed out that no one was seriously injured due to physical attacks from demonstrators, the fact remains that these kind of tactics turn off the majority of people who support the OWS movement in the US.

Unlike their Greek and Italian counterparts, most American activists don’t believe that violence is an effective way to get their message across or to challenge the economic and political system. Instead, they have used occupations of public space, alternative media and political theater to push their agenda for an end to the corruption on Wall Street and in Washington, DC. So far, this Gandhian style non-violent approach has been effective in getting their message out to the world through the global media.

I personally do not condone smashing windows as a way to get the attention of the people. Yes, the media cameras love spectacle, especially if it involves violence and chaos. But if the news coverage turns out to be just another propaganda campaign for corporate interests so they can bash the movement and play into the fearful rhetoric of the right-wingers, then I question whether this tactic can be effective in the long run. Local and federal law enforcement authorities use these incidents of property destruction as justification for the further militarization of police departments.

Having said that, I do understand the frustrations people have with corporations and their monopolistic control over the economy, the government and our daily lives. It is perhaps not surprising that occasionally a few folks decide to take matters into their own hands and lash out at inanimate objects like windows or machines.

But the reality in 2012 is that no firearms were either used or even confiscated during the May Day events in Seattle. People were not interested in directing violence towards human beings. So, in comparison to the Haymarket riots in Chicago, things in Seattle were relatively safe and peaceful despite the media circus. The fact is, the vast majority of the US is largely apathetic or opposed to radical uprisings. They prefer occasional demonstrations and sit-ins.

Mass revolution does not seem to be an imminent threat to the authorities in the United States of America. People are far too passive and apathetic to pay much attention to who’s stealing their future. Most folks only want to live for today, which is why the corporate masters have been getting away with so much debauchery, chicanery, corruption and deceit with any effective opposition.

The bread and circuses of US media has everyone so busy talking about Dancing With The Stars that they don’t have any time to worry about global climate change or the rapid destruction of life in the planet’s oceans. What is needed is actually some kind of planetary or cosmic consciousness that would allow us all to see beyond the borders of our own neighborhoods, cities, countries and planet. Let’s be honest, most residents on earth have very little perspective on what’s happening to the international economy or the global ecosystem. Their knowledge ends when the corporate media picks up the manufactured story.

While ignorance reigns, change may be impossible. As activists spend their valuable time arguing over protest tactics, the planet will continue to suffer under tyranny, corporate greed and rampant militarism. The dying shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico don’t give a damn about whether anarchy or socialism is preferable, but they sure as hell are going to need our help if the planet is to survive!

Meanwhile, the US government is still eavesdropping, building its prison/military/industrial complex and pursuing plans to use drones to assassinate US citizens in other countries. Folks are still shopping, using their credit cards and going into debt at alarming rates while homelessness increases to staggering poroportions. Yet professional sports teams and Hollywood celebrities still reign supreme with no end in sight to their all powerful dominance of American culture.

May Day 2012 was definitely not the revolution the radicals are hoping for…