Tag Archives: Gandhi

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Occupier’s Choice: Violence or Failure

Don’t Know What They Want, But They Know How To Get It

Here’s how U.S. state-controlled media covered events at Occupy Oakland:

“A day of demonstrations in Oakland that began as a significant step toward expanding the political and economic influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ended with police in riot gear arresting dozens of protesters who had marched through downtown to break into a vacant building, shattering windows, spraying graffiti and setting fires along the way,” reported the AP.

Then they quoted an Occupy Oakland member: “‘We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos,’ said protester Monique Agnew, 40.”

The lede of this November 3rd AP story frames a larger narrative. “Political and economic influence” cannot be achieved through violence. Ms. Agnew’s quote is used to support that framing. The move from “peace” to “chaos” represents a setback for the Occupy movement.

Violence = tragedy.

Considering that recorded history does not include a single instance of a nonviolent movement effecting radical change, it is interesting that anyone would argue that violence is by definition a negative development. It is equally astonishing that anyone would believe it.

In a revolution, one set of elites gets supplanted by another. There has never been a nonviolent revolution.

Never.

Gandhi was nonviolent. But his allies did resort to violence on numerous occasions. And India wasn’t a revolution. It was an independence struggle. The rich remained rich; the poor stayed poor. Conversely, there has never been a revolution in which violence was the primary tactic. Even the bloodiest revolutions—France, Russia, China—relied more on national strikes, sabotage, marches and demonstrations than shooting people. Revolutions are mostly nonviolent. But violence must always part be of the revolutionist’s toolkit.

Movements move.

Sometimes against the will of many of its members, the nascent Occupy movement is being propelled forward into its second phase: increasingly direct confrontation with the security apparatus of the American police state. The consideration of violence as a tactic is the inevitable result of Occupy’s own internal logic, resulting from a combination of its timing—at a time when revolution is needed and desired by millions of Americans, it’s the only insurrection in town—and its leaderless structure.

Never in history have the wealthy or powerful voluntarily relinquished substantial amounts of money or power. The corporate elite and the political class that enables them—the “1%,” as Occupy calls them—will never give into the Occupier’s demands to reduce their power or wealth unless faced with violence or the credible threat thereof.

As Peter Gelderloos writes in his book How Nonviolence Protects the State: “Time and again, people struggling not for some token reform but for complete liberation—the reclamation of control over our own lives and the power to negotiate our own relationships with the people and the world around us—will find that nonviolence does not work, that we face a self-perpetuating power structure that is immune to appeals to conscience and strong enough to plow over the disobedient and uncooperative.”

If voting or writing letters to the editor worked, we wouldn’t need Occupations.

The Occupy movement can wind up in one of two ways:

Failure.

Or success, partly via the occasional use of violence and/or the credible threat of violence that results from those sporadic outbursts.

First let’s define terms. Vandalism, theft and destruction of property are not violence. Inanimate objects do not suffer. Violence can only be inflicted upon living beings. Breaking a window may or may not be morally justified, but it is never violence. Further, violent self-defense is not the same as violence. Until now the violence at the Occupations has all been initiated by the police. When policemen fire rubber bullets, bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray at unarmed, peaceful protesters, their victims have every right to defend themselves—to run away, to avoid arrest and yes, to strike back.

Every civilized society recognizes the right to self-defense.

Perhaps because they were retroactively spooked by the bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings that marked the disintegration of the Vietnam protest movement, throughout the last 40 years American leftists have adhered to a strict code of militant nonviolence. Abandoning the tactics of disruption and non-cooperation (both of which were central to Gandhi’s approach), demonstrators’ ridiculous cooperation with government authorities reduced progressivism to farce.

Marchers apply for permits on public streets. Organizers give the police pre-printed lists, last name first, of activists who volunteer to be arrested; they are quickly booked and released, rarely less than $100 poorer. It is theater, a mere pantomime of genuine protest.

And it never works. You need only look back at the political history of the United States between 1971 and 2011 to see what 100% nonviolence has accomplished. Even under Democratic presidents and Congressional majorities, the Left has lost one battle after another.

The Left’s only major victory during that period followed the 1999 Battle of Seattle. Riots and broken windows disrupted the World Trade Organization for years. Countless American jobs were saved as a result. Yet liberals were ashamed.

Violence! How terrible!

Not as terrible as the wars and the massive unemployment, apparently.

At the core of the cowardice of protests carried out by establishment liberals has been slavish adherence to nonviolence at all cost. At most protests over the past few decades self-appointed “peace police” patrol the edges of crowds penned into “free speech zones” (which are inevitably placed out of the way, far from cameras). The peace police don’t lift a finger to protect demonstrators against police brutality. Instead, they act to prevent protesters from doing anything to “provoke” the cops, even when they are trying to protect themselves from brutality.

What makes the Occupy movement different and so compelling is that it moves beyond going-through-the-motions toward real resistance against tyranny for the first time since the 1960s. Seizing territory without a permit and refusing to relinquish it, as has happened at Occupy Wall Street and hundreds of other cities, presents an inherent threat to the system. The authorities can’t win no matter what they do.

They can’t do nothing. Tolerance signals legitimacy, even tacit approval of OWS and their message that rich individuals and big corporations have too much wealth and control over us. Can’t have that. Rupert Murdoch’s house organ, the New York Post, ran a front-page editorial on November 3rd screaming: “Enough!”

But crackdowns make the movement grow even bigger. A video of a NYPD official pepper-spraying four women at OWS without provocation inflamed public opinion and drew more people to Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. An announced plan to evict OWS was scrapped after hundreds of people traveled there to gird for battle.

Speaking for New York’s business community as well as Murdoch, the Post editorialized: “Time’s up. The Zuccotti Park vagabonds have had their say—and trashed lower Manhattan—for long enough. They need to go. Be it voluntarily—by packing their tents and heading off in an orderly fashion. Or by having the NYPD step in—and evict them.” They blame OWSers for urinating outside. Which merely reminds New Yorkers how unresponsive their government is: there are no public restrooms in Manhattan.

You can smell the fear along with the pee.

Meanwhile, as politicians feel more pressure to crack heads, Occupations will have to move indoors. Freezing temperatures have arrived in New York and much of the country. Tensions will rise. As clashes with the authorities intensify, the ridiculous fetish of nonviolence—a faith-based tactic with no more basis in historical fact or reality than creationism—will be forgotten and, one day soon, laughed at.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Main Street

For America’s New Radicals, a Coming-Out Party—and Brutal Cops

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” —Gandhi

Gandhi lost, but never mind.

#OccupyWallStreet, in its second week as of this writing, is and was important. It is the first major street protest inspired by the economic collapse that began in 2008. It is also the first notable public repudiation of Obama by the American Left. Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Canadian “culture jammer” magazine Adbusters asked people to converge on lower Manhattan’s financial district in order to protest corporate greed in general and—in a reflection of the influence of social networking culture—to develop one specific major demand after they gathered.

Several thousand people arrived 10 days ago but were turned away from Wall Street by a phalanx of NYPD officers manning metal barricades. A few hundred demonstrators, dominated by the scruffy white twentysomething college grads known as “hipsters,” wound up at Zuccotti Park, whose private owners granted them permission to camp there.

There they remain, noshing on donated pizza, talking, hanging out, hoping to replicate the magic of Cairo’s Tahrir Square while remaining committed to “absolute nonviolence in the Gandhian tradition,” as Adbusters commanded.

Occupy Wall Street now seems to be fizzling out.

For me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, failure was a foregone conclusion. From the opening words of the magazine’s updates to the participants, which it referred to as “dreamers, jammers, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries,” it was evident that yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.

Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.

Don’t just occupy Wall Street.

Occupy Main Street. Get ordinary people interested and involved. After all, college kid, it’s not just your struggle.

While a lack of political education should not preclude a person from participating in politics, organizers of a movement seeking radical change should make sure they don’t waste the whole time strumming a guitar and flirting. Zuccotti Park should have offered daily classes and study groups to reduce the odds that an attendee will sound like a moron when she gets questioned by a journalist.

“I’m not for interference [with wealthy people],” The New York Times quoted protester Anna Sluka. “I hope this all gets people who have a lot to think: I’m not going to go to Barcelona for three weeks. I’m going to sponsor a small town in need.” Earth to Anna: Rich people know poor people are suffering. They don’t care.

Also, lose the clown clothes. It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did. But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?

Revolutionaries should not expect fair coverage by media outlets owned by the transnational corporations they hope to overthrow. They also shouldn’t make themselves so easy to mock. Press accounts reveled in photos of topless women and the dudes on stilts who always show up at these things. So much bad hair, so many colors that don’t occur in nature.

A protest is a stage. All over New York City and around the country, people are watching on TV. Ideally, you want viewers to drop what they’re doing, to come join you. At bare minimum, you want them to approve of you. To identify with you. Maybe even send a check.

You say you represent the “99 percent” of Americans getting screwed by the top one percent. So act like the 99 percent. Dress like them.

Be normal, inclusive and welcoming.

Reporters quoted demonstrators who sounded as ignorant about current affairs as members of the Tea Party, albeit nicer. It was a perfect set-up for hit pieces by the likes of Ginia Bellafante, who called the downtown gathering an “opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival” and slammed the “group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably.”

History has proven that an absolute commitment to nonviolence can never effect radical change. This was shown again on Saturday September 23rd, when police used orange plastic nets to “kettle” and arrest about 80 Occupy Wall Streeters who had been marching peacefully through Greenwich Village. According to numerous witnesses and media accounts, none resisted. Cops went wild, beating several men bloody and macing at least one woman after she had been cuffed.

Sadly, too many people angry at gangster capitalists will look at the YouTube videos of bloodied young faces and say to themselves: I’m willing to suffer for a cause, not a scene.

Back in July, Adbusters wanted the “one simple demand” expressed by Occupy Wall Street to be “that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

What do we want?

A bipartisan blue-ribbon commission to study the extension of campaign finance reform!

When do we want it?

As soon as the committee completes its work!

Unsurprisingly and rightly, that uninspiring (and easily satisfied) demand has been set aside in favor of something better but hardly worth taking a rubber bullet for: “a vague but certain notion that the richest percentile of the country remains fat and happy as the going-on-five-year-old recession continues to batter the middle and working class,” as The New York Observer put it.

Occupy Wall Street should have demanded something majestic, reasonable and unobtainable, in order to expose the brutal nature of the system. Something like the nationalization of all corporations, equal wages for all workers, or the abolition of securities exchanges.

Some organizers also called Occupy Wall Street “Days of Rage”; along with organization and focus, rage is what is lacking.

The aggregated wealth of the superrich has been stolen from the rest of us. We should not ask them to give some of it back. We should take it all, then jail them.

Which isn’t going to happen nonviolently.

Rich people are bad people. Someone has to say it out loud.

I have no problems with the organizers of a protest deciding that its marchers will remain nonviolent. I am speaking at such an event on October 6th. However, I think it’s unwise to broadcast those intentions to the authorities.

Few people think about it now, but street demonstrations have always relied on a sense of menace. Sure, people marching through the streets of a medieval city might begin by expressing their demands peacefully. But they drank beer instead of water. On a hot day, things might escalate into a riot. The local lord was wise to give in earlier rather than later.

The rich and powerful never relinquish their prerogatives voluntarily. Only violence or the credible threat of violence can force them to give up what they stole through violence and corruption.

Despite the protesters’ many missteps, which were inevitable due to their lack of experience and political seasoning, the Occupy Wall Streeters should be commended. Sure, they did some stupid things. But they have taken a first (tentative) step into history. They have learned lessons. Hopefully they will be smarter next time.

See you in Washington on October 6th, when the October 2011 Coalition will begin the occupation of Freedom Square near the White House. Our demand is simple: We will not leave until the last occupation soldier and mercenary is withdrawn from U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL