Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
July 3, 22012
“Extreme violence has a way of preventing us from seeing the interests it serves.” --Naomi Klein
The Occupy movement is less than 10 months old but has already endured enough misguided analysis -- and tortured self-analysis -- to last 10 years.
One "debate" that never seems to end centers around the vague concept of "diversity of tactics" -- a discussion that fast devolves into a purity pissing match between those who claim to be pacifists and those who claim undying devotion to direct action.
To really, really paraphrase Thelonious Monk ("Talking about music is like dancing about architecture"): Debating violence in today's culture is like debating wetness while you ride the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean.
“Democracy don’t rule the world/You’d better get that in your head/This world is ruled by violence/But I guess that’s better left unsaid” --Bob Dylan
To all those who identify as pacifists, I submit:
The vast majority of "food" we eat results from unspeakable animal cruelty, environmental devastation, and the use of exploited human labor. This "food" contains toxins and chemicals and pesticides and GMOs that rain violence down upon ourselves and all living things and the system that controls access to such "food" perpetrates the daily -- hourly -- brutality of poverty. Every single bite you take contains the not-so-hidden ingredient of violence.
But you practice Ahimsa?
The clothes we wear and the gadgets we worship also contain myriad toxins and these ubiquitous items are usually manufactured by the equally ubiquitous sweatshop labor, prison labor, child labor, and slave labor.
Yet you're the non-violent type?
The products we use to clean (sic) ourselves and our homes don't just contain toxins, they are toxins sold in toxic packaging -- and they typically involve the scientifically specious and morally indefensible practice of animal experimentation.
And you shudder in horror at the mere mention of diversity of tactics?
Every time you flick on a light switch, you can thank the mining companies literally blowing the tops off mountains to reach coal and then dumping the toxic waste into the valleys below, polluting the headwaters of rivers that provide drinking water to millions of people. (Other violent energy options: fracking, nuclear plants, tar sands, off-shore drilling, etc.)
Meanwhile, your life is peaceful?
Do you live in America and pay taxes? If so, you are not only funding all I've mentioned above but also the well-armed thugs who make up the Blue Bloc of law enforcement from sea to shining sea -- and their Prison-Industrial Complex accomplices. You help finance the criminal regimes we call "allies," all across the globe. Then, of course, 54 percent of your tax dollars are openly used to subsidize the most violent institution the planet has ever known: the U.S. Department of Defense (sic).
Still... somehow... you remain a pacifist?
Mic Check: Don't flatter yourself.
“Those in power have made it so we have to pay simply to exist on the planet. We have to pay for a place to sleep, and we have to pay for food. If we don't, people with guns come and force us to pay. That's violent.” --Derrick Jensen
As I've traveled within the OWS movement, I've often heard folks (especially those giving interviews) talking (boasting, even) about how peaceful OWS is. Without getting into the pros and cons of dissidents being so proud of obeying laws, I will say that the scene around OWS is definitely not peaceful.
There's nothing truly "peaceful" about an environment perpetually surrounded by heavily armed defenders of the corporate status quo -- no matter how many folk songs you sing or organic banana peels you compost.
We need a far more holistic view of our culture in order to pursue a far more holistic approach to change. The Occupiers may be displaying almost exclusively peaceful behavior but the vile logic of violent deterrence is a 24/7 factor influencing this choice.
In more than one way, we are not yet in position to influence the parameters of this struggle we're engaged in. You may opt to call yourself "non-violent," but that designation will do nothing to stop the other side from using force -- often in your name. The 1% has relied on violence for centuries and will continue to do so until it runs out of weapons.
Also -- bringing it back to the broader sense I introduced above -- to claim pacifism is to ignore the implicit daily violence of modern human culture. The primary reason why so many of us play along with the current system (pay for food and water, pay rent, etc.) and often tolerate the intolerable (toxins in our food, reduced civil liberties, etc.) is because if we didn't, we'd eventually face violence from the State (eviction, arrest, detainment, prison, etc.).
Taking things to an even more interconnected view, simply using a computer to type this article means I've agreed on some level to the mining of coltan (a major component of computer circuitry) by child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where mining profits are used to fund a ruthless and bloody civil war and the ongoing slaughter of the world's largest primate (Eastern Lowland Gorilla) to make room for coltan mines.
Mic Check: Every keystroke I make is an act of violence.
I could go on -- the examples are virtually without limit -- but it's easier to sum up for now: Industrial civilization is built on -- and based on and functions on -- overt and covert violence. Any discussion of non-violence that ignores this reality is an exercise in deep denial.
"Don't be obsessed with tactics but with purpose. Tactics have a half life." --Noam Chomsky
Before you run and tell Gandhi on me, please note that I'm not advocating violence. Then again, I'm not advocating non-violence. The only thing I'm advocating is that members of the 99% maintain a big picture purpose, holistic solidarity, and a commitment to a wide range of sustained actions.
Successful activism is never either/or. When allies bicker over tactics, you can be certain vanity is ruling the day. Whether you want to sign petitions or engage underground direct action, go right ahead -- but please understand that such diversity of tactics advances the cause.
Please also understand that deriding others for not adhering to your finely tuned sense of purity (violent, non-violent, or whatever) is more about your sense of self than about creating the changes we all seek.
The same could be said for the counterproductive yet prevailing need for many activists to distance themselves from anything connected to anarchism.
"Sometimes people think that yoga (and anarchism) is about 'doing whatever you feel.' but actually, it's about taking great care of others, which takes a tremendous amount of discipline and courage. --vegan/anarchist/yogi, Jessica Sage Stickler
Mic Check: Anarchism is not synonymous with violence. Capitalism is.
Capitalism (and most of its rivals) is a system based on the relentless exploitation of finite resources. Anarchism? Well, here's how Chomsky puts it: "Anarchists try to identify power structures. They urge those exercising power to justify themselves. This justification does not succeed most of the time."
While the mainstream, the liberals, and the squeamish all take turns spouting uninformed slander about anarchists (and the now-mythical Black Bloc), the truth remains: It requires an incredible amount of optimism to be an anarchist.
Anarchists are the only ones with enough faith in humanity to believe we can co-exist peacefully without coercive institutions and hierarchies. How much more fuckin' optimistic can you be? It never ceases to amaze me when I'm labeled "negative" for explaining realities like those I've discussed in this article when the path I'm suggesting couldn't be more positive.
This positivity, though, is based on action -- both individual and collective -- and maybe therein lies the rub.
"Both yoga and anarchism buck our cultural conditioning, which tells us that our actions don't really matter," adds Jessica Sage Stickler. "Rather both emphasize that our every action -- and inaction -- has significance."
Until the pervasive presence/threat of cultural violence is diminished and ultimately eradicated, we must never stop exposing it, factoring it into our words and actions, and finding ways to sabotage it.
The revolutionary process involves the nuts and bolts of daily resistance -- hard work like reaching out to those who've been heavily conditioned by mainstream culture. This can be an agonizingly slow, inch-by-inch effort -- but it's crucial.
The revolutionary process also involves broadening our scope and making wider and wider connections -- aiming for holistic perspectives and thus, holistic justice across lines of gender, age, ethnicity, species, ability, sexual orientation, class, and more. This is abstract work but no less arduous. For those you already in tune with the OWS groove, it's crucial.
As for tactics, why not let each Occupier decide which implement best suits her or his style? There's so much work to be done so please, stop worrying about what everyone else is or isn't doing. Let’s all perform a daily ego-check and focus on the tasks at hand.
It's a long -- and exhilarating -- road ahead. Choose process over purity...
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