Violence & Ruthlessness: Activism’s Strange Bedfellows…

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.

Real classy.

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?

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    • The Hammer on September 3, 2012 at 08:54
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    This attitude in the activist community comes from arrogance and narrow-mindedness. They seem to beleive that since (as they feel) they are trying to “improve” the world through their actions they are somehow above the law. This is the argument Kelly Pflug-Back’s lawyer made at her sentencing. Instead of an apology or admitting she was wrong her lawyer said she deserved a slap on the wrist because she was trying to make the world a better place. Anders Behring Breivik also said he was trying to make the world a better place.

    A few years back I had a chance to visit the Killing Fields and Gennocide Musium of Cambodia and see how far this arrogant narrow-mindedness can take some people. I got to see the results of a group of activists who fought for “Social justice” and to rid their country of the evils of money, banking and globalization. While there I got to see a tree the activists used to slam the heads of babies against to kill them, a tower of skulls and in tact torture chambers used to interrogate and punnish enemies of their revolution. I also saw a country that has been left as a basketcase even 30 years later. Poverty so extreme people in the West could not even imagine. A country so poor that in their wealthiest area they cannot even afford to fix holes in the road. When the holes get to big they just fill them with rocks.

    The old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” rings true. Simply wanting to change the world to what you see as a better one is not enough to justify volice and imposing your will on others. It is no different than a cop who taints evidence to put a criminal in jail. They think they are doing a good thing too.

    1. they do say “all’s is fair in love and war”

      1. It depends on one’s intention I guess. If you want a better world at the end of the tunnel it sure slows you down if you go burning bridges and pillaging villages along the way…

    • James on September 3, 2012 at 09:47
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    If you go into any activist community or meeting and put a poster up that states “Be the change you want to see” everyone will gather around and nod their heads in quiet, respectful agreement at the profoundness (?) of the words. But that is as far as it goes for most of them. What their emotional/spiritual/intellectual immaturity fails to see is that 95% of the time the opportunity/challenge that our “enemies” offer us is the chance to change ourselves. I was once told that you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself, which in turn will cause others to change. For example, if you keep lending money to someone and they never pay you back, well you can’t get them change by continually lending them money. But if you stand up and say no, then they will stop even trying to borrow money from you because you no longer lend it to them. But let’s be serious, it is much “easier” to just lend the person the money yet again, even if you are sure it is a BS story they are handing you, than it is to face the uncomfortable situation of what might happen if you say no – more pressure, feeling like a bad person etc. And then you are “fully justified” in getting angry, bad mouthing them, hell in some cases beating them up, because they didn’t pay you back and you now can’t cover your rent.
    And that is the problem with a lot of the “activist”, a term I am coming to hate, community. They are weak and lazy. Yes there are bad things happening out there, things that can make us incredibly angry. But we can use that anger like a fire to power an internal combustion machine to take us to a better place. Of course a quicker, easier and far less challenging route is to just use that fire to burn down the house, family and holdings of those that have angered us. Unfortunately that requires no strength of self-restraint, no critical thought of how to truly solve a problem with a long term, minimal damage solution and no work ethic to slowly and surely see a difficult plan come to fruition over a long period of time. In fact if you are a good talker, you don’t even have to light the match yourself, you can get some angry idiot dressed in black to do it.
    Ultimately, the violence, in all its forms, that you speak of is the easy way out. It makes us lazy and weak and only degrades our spiritual, emotional and intellectual state. It brings us down to the level of our enemies and quite often lower. If people really wanted to improve the world, they would start with themselves. Lord knows there is a lifetimes worth of work in each one of us. But then that is the problem right there isn’t it? Who wants to do a lifetime of work, work which very rarely seems to have any compensation.

    Good post today, Greg.

    • brotherwolf1 on September 4, 2012 at 09:53
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    Having been , and continuing to be an activist in this city, i can say quite comfortably that there are really very few REAL activists in this city . Sorry but marching up and down, yelling mindless chants and attaching bristol board signs to the end of a broken hockey does not make a person an activist. breaking windows does not make a person an activist. Those in these mindless fringe groups who claim to be activists have not accomplished so much ONE big of positive change. What they HAVE accomplished, however, is having all activists branded and painted with the same brush , that being one as criminals, lazy assed dope heads and anarchists. REAL activists get results and don’t need to draw negative attention to themselves.

      • James on September 4, 2012 at 10:01
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      “What they HAVE accomplished, however, is having all activists branded and painted with the same brush , that being one as criminals, lazy assed dope heads and anarchists.” Sadly, in many ways, truer words have never been spoken.
      If you are not one of the above, and is someone who just goes about quietly getting the necessary work done, then I salute you.

    • brotherwolf1 on September 4, 2012 at 13:23
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    James, Yes, i am one of those activists who gets things done without fanfare, no media, no nothing. I am NOT interested in recognition, only results for the persons for whom I do advocate for . I say ” I ” here, however, there are several of us here who do the exact same thing, the and get the same results, SUCCESS. I look at Greg as one example, He sticks his neck out there everytime and gets serious results. Greg exposed the beatings of special needs kids by UNION S who condone this, he took it on and was able to WIN having this practice STOPPED. He didn’t break windows, he didn’t occupy an intersection, he didn’t march up and down like some automoton with a cheap sign, he used , clear, articulate, well researched, educated means to accomplish something that yeilded a positive result.

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