I crossed paths with a friend yesterday- someone who makes eagle-eyed observations on the social structure of Toronto’s activist community. They said that people accept the tactics of all others because they must ally in solidarity against ‘the system’. This means so very many different things. The range of actions could be anything from riding unicycles, to doing banner drops, fighting with and baiting the police, claiming fake mass graves, assault, smashing windows or cheating the government for grant money.
How is that going for us so far? Has it been productive?
I propose that is hasn’t. That is, unless, activists wish to build a new world that is riddled with criminality, violence and dissent. If you’re fertilizing an egg for a better world with less oppression and greater equality, just don’t see how you can get there using violence and oppression. How long will it take for the reverberations to stop hurting people once the system has fallen. Could it not be done in a way where less good people are getting hurt?
I’ll start with a simplistic example- someone smashes a plate glass window at Starbucks. If the window breaks cleanly, and by some chance doesn’t fall on the customers, then nobody was hurt- right? Well it certainly put a lot of stress into their days- perhaps it delays them. Meanwhile they’re desperately figuring how they’ll get home to the babysitter on-time while they’re having to wait for the police.
Now a more complex example. An activist or non-profit organization has attached themselves to a marginalized community. This could be anything from new immigrants to the hearing impaired to saving the whales or the boreal forest. But it is okay to appropriate their voices? Well, perhaps it’s okay with the trees- but, definitely not for human beings. (I’m still on-the-fence about the whales.)
Hard selling newcomers the moment they hit Canada is an easy way to capture a political base. It’s not very fair to them though- only a few steps away from huckstering snake oil or weight loss pills. The activist version of ambulance chasing.
If you are going to found a revolution with tactics like this, how will it ever end?
How about if you are Occupy Toronto and you have someone selling meth out of a tent on St. James Park? Is it unacceptable to make him stop if he’s an activist? What if there’s a rape, do we have to report it to the police, or is it better to handle that off-the-record? Does the organization have any right to influence the victim’s decision?
What if someone was using subterfuge to cover-up their monkeywrenching by serving wholesome loving food. Will the goodness of the food outweigh the damage of blockading a port? What about the truck drivers who lost a day’s pay for that? What if the driver’s earnings aren’t as good as they used to be prior to the recession? Is this person just an unfortunate casualty caused by friendly fire?
Why is it unacceptable to discuss and analyse these casualties? What about when the revolution is over? Are we guaranteed society will be more altruistic if it is allowed to maul people now?
What about a movement’s elder statespeople? If they observe and ignore human casualties will they be pointing a path to a better world? Is it okay to support the activities of a vandal? Will you support the vandals after the revolution too? What if the window crashes down while you’re buying your eggnog late? What about your grandchildren- or your friend’s?
In Russia, endless revolution meant that the apparatchik continued screwing the population over throughout the length of the Soviet Union – the violence lasted for decades. The Soviet Revolution failed at the moment they pulled the trigger on the Czar & his family. It was the point of no return.
The reverberations of this violence led to Stain’s purges- the marching footsteps coming down your hall at 2:30am. That deep breath of relief hearing that they were only coming for your neighbour that night. The sadness of losing your neighbour. The pain is still reverberating in Russia to this day.
We can say that Chavez or Ahmadinejad are great because they are helping forward the revolution. But how great do you think it feels for their citizens who are being stoned for religious violations, or put into horrible 2nd world prisons? The pain of this violence will pass to future generations. Is that okay?
What about some poor young girl in Iran who gets accidentally labelled a slut due to a misunderstanding? Once the Iranians finish stoning her is it acceptable to go back on PressTV? Are you kidding me?
Equally, what about an Israeli father who has to tell his wife their child has died after a bus blew-up in Jerusalem? Or, a Palestinian mother whose son is in an Israeli prison.
What if an ally uses torture? Can it ever be acceptable? What if it means that your cause will win and a whole lot of future suffering will be avoided? Will the echo of the violence fade so quickly?
How about the banker who messes around with the LIBOR rate? If he feel’s he working toward social good, is he allowed to use diversity of tactics too?
What about that kid who’s on-the-run after exercising their respect of diversity and chaining themselves to a place with a court injunction? Will they be contributing to a happy and healthy society by spending the next 12 months in jail? How will this experience be impacting this kid twenty years later? Isn’t irresponsible to throw them as jetsam at such a young age?
If one want’s to build a better world, we need to build it with solid materials. Violence, hate and fraud are the equivalent of building with straw. Is this the change you want to see?
Of course it isn’t. Right?