A good part of the reason I started blogging was because I went to a history conference at a UT branch up between Dallas and Fort Worth and found that, contrary to belief, many well known academic historians have found community history projects to be invaluable because of their focus and details. Photos rated high. Photos with details rate high. Interviews with participants in events rated high. Interviews with older people rated high if you cover their experience and perspective.
- Prairie Weather

“Protest works. Just look at the proof”

Free MP3 sites

Be your own program director. Venture off the beaten path. Live a little.

2dopeboyz: Hip hop. (RSS)

3hive: Sharing the sharing. Free and legal MP3s from over 600 underground and undiscovered artists — new ones added daily. (RSS)

Amazon MP3 Download - Frequency: Weekly. Get the latest on Amazon MP3 music downloads - new releases, freshly ripped hits, and special deals.

Audio Drums - A blog for rare, possibly overlooked, maybe forgotten gems of music with a slight emphasis on electronic and indie genres. (RSS)

Common Folk Music - A blog about music, not just folk music, but all music ranging from indie to alt-country to bluegrass, because music is for the “Common Folk”. (RSS)

Discobelle.net (RSS)

Fiddlefreak Folk Music Blog - Folk, bluegrass, Celtic, and other music of the people. (RSS)

Fingertips Music - Free and legal music. (RSS)

Gorilla Vs Bear (RSS)

Hillydilly: Simply Good Music. (RSS)

I Rock Cleveland: Indie Rock, College Rock, Alt Rock, Modern Rock, Cleveland Rock, and Rock. (RSS)

KEXP Song of the Day: KEXP 90.3 FM - where the music matters (RSS)

Kick Kick Snare (RSS)

Line Of Best Fit - TLOBF.COM | Music Reviews, News, Interviews & Downloads (RSS)

Lipstick Disco - Deep House & Disco music blog fronted by Females (RSS)

Minnesota Public Radio Song of the Day: Music lovers from 89.3 The Current share songs with you each weekday. (RSS)

Muruch (RSS)

Music Like Dirt: Music in all its many forms, mp3’s, live reviews and photography. (RSS)

My Old Kentucky Blog - a music blog that parties with unicorns. (RSS)

Nah Right. (RSS)

ninebullets.net. (RSS)

Rollo & Grady: Los Angeles Music Blog, LA Music Blog (RSS)

Said the Gramophone: a music weblog (RSS)

She Makes Music: She Makes Music focuses on the most exciting and impressive new music created by brilliant and talented female musicians. (RSS)


Sounds Better With Reverb (RSS)

Stereogum: All the MP3s on Stereogum.com (RSS)

their bated breath (RSS)

Women of Hip Hop (RSS)

YouKnowIGotSoul (RSS)

Mourn ya till I join ya

The Wheel’s Still In Spin: Focusing on new music releases and reviews of individual albums as original, fictional short stories (RSS)

A Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz - This site is just a way for me to have a little fun and share a little music. I’ll highlight some of my favorite artists that I play on the radio and try to expound upon their music in ways I can’t always do on the air. (RSS)

Aminal Sound

Audiofile: Music Blog, Music Articles - Salon.com

Crossfade: The CNET music blog

Direct Current New Music - Adult pop, rock, singer/songwriters, folk, Americana, alt-country, adult alternative, soul, world music, crossover jazz and simply those artists that make us go “hmmm.”(RSS)

GarageBand.com Folk top tracks (RSS)

GarageBand.com Hip Hop top tracks (RSS)

Flawless Hustle: Urban culture blog featuring artist interviews, music reviews, legal music downloads, street art, graffiti and more! (RSS)



The Jon Swift principle: “I will add anyone to my blogroll who adds me to theirs.” Email or leave a comment to let me know.


The Hunting of the Snark

Sites participating in blogroll amnesty day

Jon Swift aka Al Weisel, may he rest in peace. Co-originator of Blogroll Amnesty Day

skippy the bush kangaroo (Co-originator of Blogroll Amnesty Day) (2012)

Vagabond Scholar (2012)
Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety. Keeper of the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup (The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

Notes From Underground (2012)

Redeye’s Front Page (2012)

Wisdom of the West (2012)

Zen Comix (2012)

pygalgia (2012)

Mikeb302000 (2012)

The Agonist (2012)

Brilliant At Breakfast (2012)

Bacon and Eggs (2012)

« Concerning violence advocates and nailing jello to walls | Main | Diversity of tactics - and uniformity of outcomes »

Concerning violence advocates and the Black Bloc in Occupy

This was published with considerable feedback from several bloggers at Corrente: DCblogger, affinis, lambert and okanogen. My sincere thanks to all of them for their help.

The issue of violence at Occupy flared up last week when Chris Hedges used violent rhetoric to make the case for nonviolence. It was not the first time, either; he’d approvingly written of Greeks rioting - his protests to the contrary notwithstanding. (Lambert has been using the “own goal” metaphor to describe Hedges’ clumsier efforts.)

This is a big problem because of his prominence. When he writes something, people notice. Someone like David Graeber is moved to respond, spending a good deal of time on the theme of “whatever your intentions, it is very hard to read your statement as anything but an appeal to violence.” If violence advocates (VAs) feel the need to answer language like that (or are simply clever enough debaters to seize that rhetorical opening), it crowds out discussion of other issues, and there’s plenty else to discuss.

For instance, the idea that NVAs should emphatically disassociate themselves from VAs seems terribly provocative to Graeber. He writes (emph. in orig.):

Successful movements have understood that it’s absolutely essential not to fall into the trap set out by the authorities and spend one’s time condemning and attempting to police other activists. One makes one’s own principles clear. One expresses what solidarity one can with others who share the same struggle, and if one cannot, tries one’s best to ignore or avoid them, but above all, one keeps the focus on the actual source of violence, without doing or saying anything that might seem to justify that violence because of tactical disagreements1 you have with fellow activists.
First, there’s a world of difference between condemning violence and attempting to police it; lumping these together is careless at best and a sneaky tactic at worst. Second, condemning VAs loudly is important because, as Graeber himself shows later in that same piece, the absence of explicit denunciation is taken by VAs as an implicit endorsement (“Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer.”2). If NVAs want to avoid that kind of unwelcome association they have no option but to be crystal clear about their stance.

Also, Graeber’s framing is a false choice where condemning violent reactions to police brutality is somehow excusing and further, even inviting police brutality. One can believe both kinds of violence are wrong, and it is a mighty cynical kind of solidarity that requires those who believe in nonviolence to ignore those who practice violence. Silence equals approval. If you employ a tactic that you know goes against my deeply held beliefs, why is it my beliefs which must be suppressed? In that formulation, violence trumps nonviolence, because only the former is granted a full spectrum of expression.

The calls for silence among NVAs has taken a particularly sinister turn recently as VAs have begun to also insist that no (potentially inconvenient) live streaming be done of events, lest they show Black Bloc tactics in action without the aid of a painstaking explanation by an apologist. So Black Bloc now comes full circle to embrace precisely the same mindset of brutality and suppression that they claim to find so objectionable in police. And since Black Bloc is relatively easy to infiltrate during an action, we aren’t necessarily just talking about an ideological merger, either.

These tactics are spectacularly wrong-headed; as Charles commented:

[Hedges] would have done better to point to the long history of the police inserting their agents into demonstrations to commit crimes and thereby tar the demonstrators. The logical question then is, “if the police are paying people to smash windows, why are you doing it for free?”
Why indeed? As DCblogger remarks in mail: “No snitching cries are a good indicator of a police informer. Bringing in the police is very dangerous to informers, so they don’t want anyone to do that.” As for the suppression, I initially considered likening it to the infamous Stop Snitchin’ campaign, but refrained because I thought VAs might find the unsavory connection objectionable. Well, turns out they’re going there themselves3. What’s next, omertà?

Perhaps VAs, like Mitt Romney, believe some things should only be discussed in quiet rooms. That would be very convenient for VAs, to have gentle talks in dulcet tones out of the spotlight while chaos is stirred up on the streets, and the public views the entire movement through the lens of violent activism.

Those opposed to violent actions (no matter how you define them) do not have that luxury, though. They need to voice their opposition strenuously and publicly, because literally everyone else — VAs, authorities, and the wider citizenry — will assume they approve of violent tactics otherwise.

Finally, there’s a dynamic that both sides are coming to grips with. Susie Cagle describes it thus:

While previous criticisms came from the right or center of the political spectrum, these perspectives are arising from the left and mainly from journalists who have not been in the field to witness these tactics in action and within context.
And Graeber (again):
I am also writing as someone who was deeply involved in the early stages of planning Occupy in New York. I am also an anarchist who has participated in many Black Blocs.
There are two points being made. First, Cagle is right that those who are actually on the scene are best qualified to report on what is happening. God knows there has been enough shoddy reporting from those who blandly pass along press releases from City Hall or who parachute in for a day or two and presume to write their authoritative accounts. There’s no substitute for long term, on-the-ground reporting, and the accounts from those folks should be taken to be the most credible unless they demonstrate otherwise.

But as valuable as that experience is for a reporter, it can be hazardous for an activist: There’s a certain “I was there” snobbishness that can creep in. Arguing from authority has been one of the major complaints of those frustrated with insular, self-referential and power privileging reporting from MSM outlets. Seeing it from activists is particularly disturbing, and seeing it from anarchists like Graeber is mind-boggling.

While, those on the inside are better positioned to give a front row story, they are also susceptible to the myopic perspective that causes relatively small or inconsequential elements to be wildly distorted. VAs may have an elaborately constructed paradigm to justify their tactics, and may have meticulously selected a regional franchise’s windows to break, instead of a “locally owned” coffee shop4 (curated vandalism, if you will), but guess what? The uninitiated observer will just see destruction5.

The position of VA that destroying property and physically confronting police is some kind of sublime critique requires an almost complete level of self-absorption. It takes a resolute and willful ignorance to not see how obviously repellent such tactics are to the population at large6. VAs might respond by saying they disregard the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeois pigs, which is fine. But those who characterize the populace like that have no place in a movement that strives to represent — or at least get approving forbearance from — the bottom 99% of the economic scale.


1. VAs are notoriously slippery in their arguments. They insist that they never, ever be criticized over what they call tactical disagreements — but refuse to make themselves distinct from those who want no part of their tactics. NVAs tried to make that distinction plain from the very beginning in Oakland and violence advocates prevented it. In effect, the groups were associated against one of the groups’ will. Yet VAs remain extraordinarily touchy about being criticized. So they force themselves on those who strenuously disagree with their tactics and then act like aggrieved victims if there is any objection. And incidentally, that disagreement is foundational. VAs like to pretend its some sort of minor semantic difference, but in fact it goes to the very heart of what Occupy represents: VAs consider it an insurgency; NVAs a mass movement. Those two are mutually exclusive.

2. Any veering off into What Would Gandhi Do is an unhelpful distraction as far as I’m concerned. Occupy is happening right now; we need to focus on what’s happening right now and give our arguments for or against it in terms of what’s happening right now. Hypotheticals, theoreticals, thought experiments and other flights of fancy are as counterproductive as eliminationist rhetoric.

That said, Graeber misrepresents Gandhi. His claim that Gandhi refused to denounce the murderer by a radical is simply not true. The passage comes from here (via affinis in email), and Gandhi clearly denounces it: “I must say that those who believe and argue that such murders may do good to India are ignorant men indeed. No act of treachery can ever profit a nation. Even should the British leave in consequence of such murderous acts, who will rule in their place? The only answer is: the murderers.”

Affinis also sent along this; see particularly the last part: “Do you not tremble to think of freeing India by assassinations?” etc. Perhaps violence advocates require a certain amount of historical revisionism to make their ideology palatable for the masses. I wonder why that would be?

3. There’s at least an equally long post that can be written about suppression, bullying and sexism by violence advocates. While they bristle at any suggestion they are animated by a hypermasculine mindset, it’s pretty clear that women are overwhelmingly (but not unanimously!) turned off by the kind of glorified hooliganism VAs champion. If they don’t lose their voices entirely they will only be heard if they manage to become sufficiently appealing to a powerful male.

4. The romanticized notion of targeting a national coffee chain over a locally owned coffee shop might be some more historical revisionism. Affinis, via email:

I doubted this when I read it, since most Black Blocs agree on a strict policy of not damaging owner-operated enterprises, and I now find in Susie Cagle’s response to your article that, in fact, it was a chain coffee shop, and the property destruction was carried out by someone not in black.”
This is a reference to Tully’s coffeeshop. I tried digging into this a bit. Individual Tully’s coffeeshops explicitly advertise themselves as locally owned and operated. But Tully’s is a franchise. Across firms, franchises vary in their level of central control. Apparently with Tully’s the individual shops are pretty much independent in operation and style (unlike say a McDonald’s franchise), but all sell coffee from the mother firm, etc.

Whether or not the property destruction was carried out by someone in black (and I’ve not seen any evidence of this outside of Cagle’s article, where she was arguing against Hedges) might be a bit besides the point. In the Nov 2 evening events, in the videos, the people carrying out the trashing seemed to be predominantly be young men wearing bandannas, and it seemed that they clearly knew each other and were acting in a coordinated fashion, but many were not wearing black. Incidentally, in Oakland, both Tully’s and that Starbucks that later had its windows smashed had donated food to OO before getting their windows smashed.

As far as BB respecting owner operated businesses - I’ve seen little evidence of that.
So take the lofty claims with a grain of salt.

5. One of the few resonant points VAs make is that those who go into the legal system face a very hard time. America’s onerous and punitive criminal justice policies not only warehouse people for excessively long periods, but brands them for life after release. But that is just one part of the issue. DCblogger in an email: “[P]utting someone into the criminal justice system is a very serious matter. it is life altering. But then, so is smashing the window. The bank can replace the window. Or they can shut down the branch. Washington DC’s riot corridor was a ghost town for 30 years. The damage of a riot lives a long time after the riot. I hate to think what business insurance is in Oakland right now.”

6. In a way, getting bogged down in VA arguments is counterproductive because it distracts us from looking at what kind of actions are inclusive and inviting. This is an extension of the “insurgency vs. mass movement” dichotomy in footnote 1. Via email, activist Joseph Anderson:

Occupy Oakland, and the Occupy movement, cannot both have a diversity of people and a “diversity of tactics” at this time — and the movement can’t shortcut the process of attaining, and retaining, the first by jumping to the second.
Via email, lambert:
The object IMNSHO should be to get as many people as possible supporting Occupations with their physical presence. This is what the Egyptians did. “All walks of life” must participate. One can also think of this as “safety in numbers.” Only NV can do that.

As a corollary, transparency and accountability are key, because if the GA decides that an event will be NV, and a bunch of parents bring their kids in strollers, and a lot of old people come with their walkers, and then a black blocker heaves a bottle at the police and the police charge the crowd, then (a) you’ve put innocents at risk, (b) you’ve lost a ton of people, who not only feel fearful but betrayed, and rightly so, and (c) you make it harder for part of the country that are not yet Occupy-friendly to become so.

And as a corollary to that, Occupy is pre-figuring what a transparent and accountable public process looks like. Where else have you seen one of those lately? But if, in the name of autonomy, you’ve got black blockers doing violence, then nothing is transparent and accountable at all (unless you want to make the assumption that random violence is always possible). So the pre-figuration gets destroyed as well.


And I don’t think that the idea is that the state will respond with illegal violence. A child of six knows that. The lesson is in the prefiguration. The libraries, the kitchens. Doing something.
And finally this from activist Soul:
We are being killed economically especially small businesses and all resources for our children. We have schools closing down, we have murders daily. That needs to be addressed, but we’re trying to teach our children not to use violent measures, to use restorative justice and things. And then we have this violence and madness. Whether the police do it to them or they do it - both sides need to stop, I feel. The police and them, and let us get busy to try and build and create in a positive manner.

So that is why I’m standing; I’m not with the Chamber of Commerce. I’m representing West Oakland community - the children that are voiceless, the poor, the disabled - that will not have a voice with that group…I think [black bloc] has been infiltrated by police infiltrators, by provocateurs and stuff, and they’re falling for it.

Because see there’s this game in Occupy. As soon as any violence or any type of aggression happens it’s the anarchists. And then when they do their call out, that’s who they’re calling to go front lines, and then they deny it…I think a lot of them, especially those that are always in the camera - you can see the one over there - are protest prostitute media whores. They look for the camera, they look for the sensation, rather than be busy daily in the community like many of us are. Daily. They’re going to tear down our infrastructure. Well it’s not going to be allowed…I want them to go home, they’ve overstayed their welcome. Many of them aren’t even from this city, and I can start pointing at who don’t live here. But I don’t want to do that. I send them much respect and love, but enough’s enough. You know, enough is enough.

There’s no direction, no demand. They talk about foreclosures. Why the hell aren’t they standing in front of a bank all day every day, jamming the engines? No no, we’re gonna tear up city hall, we’re gonna tear up whatever.
Preventing Wells Fargo from foreclosing on a house may not provide the adrenaline rush that smashing shit up provides, but it is actually far more provocative and subversive. To the extent that VAs prevent that kind of more productive activity it is deeply damaging to Occupy.

Also, the “There’s no direction, no demand” critique has traction that initial “why don’t they have demands?” cries against OWS didn’t have. Occupy has begun to formulate demands via direct actions like Occupy Our Homes and supporting local strikes. The first charges were specious because they were leveled against a mass movement just beginning to articulate its beliefs. In the early days, what Charles Pierce called shouting at the right buildings was enough. Once activism started it became more reasonable to expect protesters to have some kind of message. So “no direction, no demand” is a fair charge to level against VAs.

Reader Comments (7)

It's upsetting to have to read the same old arguments for the so-called "revolutionary" nature of bottle-throwing and window-smashing that I suffered through forty or more years ago, then as now thrown up (in both senses) by a supercilious handful smugly parading their street-tough bravado while claiming virture for their cowardly anonymity as they refuse to willingly take any personal risk for the "revolution" they are so sure they will spark, a "revolution" which apparently will be left to others to actually fight.

Really know how to depress the old folks, doncha?

February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLarryE

I'm gratified that you find my argument (that the police are paying people to be violent to discredit the movement, so why would anyone do it for free?) to be compelling.

I disagree that we shouldn't think about what Gandhi would do because this time is different. It always pays to know history--and not shallowly, but deeply. Satyagraha is an aggressive technique, a kind of war--one in which one deliberately loses every battle knowing that this is how the war will truly be won. It is won by showing the violent ones how repellent they are, and by showing the passive, frightened ones who stand on the sideline that they can be heroes, too.

Studying Gandhi does not mean that he was always right. In Egypt, soccer hooligans stood off the police during some critical moments. Was that a constructive use of violence? I am not clear on it, but am willing to consider it. That case clearly illustrates the difference between Black Bloc tactics and the Arab Spring. In the Arab Spring, those who were violent acted to defend those who were non-violent. They didn't attack businesses or bystanders. They didn't even really attack the police. They just responded. If the Black Bloc were doing that, perhaps one could make a case for them. They aren't. One can't.

February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Charles. You voiced one of my two big reservations: "Studying Gandhi does not mean that he was always right." I don't want to set up a situation where Gandhi (or anyone else) is considered the final word on NVA, then have someone scour his text for (at least ostensibly) pro-VA sentiments, point to them triumphantly and say "see, Gandhi agrees with us."

My second reservation is that it could potentially turn into a time-consuming analysis over what Gandhi would have thought of Occupy; there's a real urgency to make the case against VA right now, and I think a more academic discussion like that can wait.

Thanks again for the feedback Charles.

February 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan

So I would agree that the actions of random property destruction taken by bb mobs are pointless. Moreover, there is the issue that quite a few franchisers only became such because their own/old setup was no longer competitive, so that it seems a bit dubious to blame them overmuch.
In any case, the main consideration seems to me that the public has no way of telling which is which, so that it cannot carry a political message absent certain widely shared assumptions about the rightness of operating a franchise store or diving an Audi.

Yet looking at this debate, I have to say that I find most contributions fairly unpleasant. For instance, I find the response by DCBlogger in note 5 extremely frustrating, because it seems to me to endorse the idea that it is the fault of the rioters that nobody could be bothered to take up their cause, and that the area was left to rot. (Or that the rioters should've acted differently because they should've expected the outcome they got.) Certainly it is possible that a response akin to the dooming of the riot corridor(s) will occur again, but to put the blame for that on the rioters rather than the society that accepts the reaction seems wrong.

Having said that, I agree that vandalism has very little to do with "acting as though you are already free", so I don't really see a good reason to endorse it (except when we are talking about measured and strictly defensive actions). But I have no idea what that should mean for whether masks are or aren't appropriate tools, since I have no idea what protesting is like 'on the ground'.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFoppe

Yet looking at this debate, I have to say that I find most contributions fairly unpleasant. For instance, I find the response by DCBlogger in note 5 extremely frustrating, because it seems to me to endorse the idea that it is the fault of the rioters that nobody could be bothered to take up their cause, and that the area was left to rot. (Or that the rioters should've acted differently because they should've expected the outcome they got.) Certainly it is possible that a response akin to the dooming of the riot corridor(s) will occur again, but to put the blame for that on the rioters rather than the society that accepts the reaction seems wrong.

Surely the point of political action is to make things better. Surely it is easy to predict that violence, including vandalism, will make things worse. You don't need to predict how much worse, only that it is obvious that a broken window will never make anything better.

Yes, I blame society, and specifically bank redlining, for the fact that DC's riot corridor did not get better until the subway was built. Even so, I hold the rioters responsible for the original destruction.

Even more do I hold today's vandals responsible, because we can see how violence destroyed the effectiveness of the anti-globolization movement, and in my judgment, reduced the effectiveness of the anti-war movement in the 1960's. Violence is bad. I do not hesitate to take an absolute view on this.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdcblogger

Anyone advocating violence must be presumed to be an agent provocateur. There is no other method by which a movement can protect itself. All such advocates must be expelled by the group and no quarter what so ever given to any such talk much less action.
Environmentalists, especially anti-nuclear activists of the 70's, having learned from the mistakes of their older siblings in SDS and the Weather Underground, figured this out pretty early. Affinity Group training was essentially training for non-violent action. The whole thing worked remarkably well and was, in turn, remarkably successful. Note too that by the time Earth First! came around, the environmental movement as one denounced their violence and vandalism and made certain their movement was free of any association. Earth First! consequently withered and died as it should have. But we are all environmentalists now.
1. The cops will always try to infiltrate any popular movement in order to disgrace it. Thus cops are always agents provocateur.
2. There is no way to know who is or is not working for the cops.
3. All VA's must be presumed to be cops.
QED (for your own sake)

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMIke

Certainly the point of political action is to make things better, but in order to organize you will first need to figure out how to do so, and second, believe that your doing so could possibly change anything.

Having said that, given that it is pretty clear by now that a large part of the reason why MLK could be killed was that the US govt had chosen to stop protecting him pretty much as soon as he started talking about economic inequality, and given that this withdrawal was probably also noticed by his supporters, I am not really sure why you think those rioters should've cared overmuch about the question what problems their rioting might cause for them down the road once he got shot. Personally, a five-day grieving period doesn't strike me as all that shocking.
(Note that I do not mean to suggest that this has any bearing on the question whether bb vandalism serves any purpose, but that I merely feel the need to point out that the state-sanctioned killing of political leaders strikes me as rather more disturbing than the fact that the riots sparked by that event caused a bit of damage.)

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFoppe

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>