The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
New Plymouth, New Zealand
December 02
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author of 2 young adult novels - Battle for Tomorrow and A Rebel Comes of Age - and a free ebook 21st Century Revolution. My 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about my books (and me) at

FEBRUARY 26, 2012 5:39PM

Debating Violence in the Occupy Movement

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Occupy Oakland protestor

Occupy Oakland protestor

(This is the first of three posts regarding the “diversity of tactics” debate raging in the Occupy movement. Contrary to the myth promoted by the corporate media, the Occupy movement is alive and well and engaged in a multiplicity of creative movement building activities. The term “diversity of tactics” is used to distinguish tactics that include property damage and armed retaliation against the police from nonviolent direct action and extremist tactics such as planting bombs and armed insurrection.)

By now several thousands progressives and liberals have read the article The Cancer in Occupy Chris Hedges published on Truthdig on February 6th. It was subsequently reposted on a number of other sites. In the article, Hedges condemns the so-called “Black Bloc Movement” and “Black Bloc anarchists” for a variety of sins that include breaking store and car windows, burning flags, and swearing and throwing tear gas canisters at the police. There is a major problem with the whole premise of the article. As Hedges’ critics are quick to point out, “black bloc” (lower case) refers to tactics – there is no such thing as a “Black Block Movement” or “Black Bloc anarchists.” However unless they are regular readers of anarchist and left libertarian websites and blogs, activists are unlikely to have seen the numerous critiques of “The Cancer in Occupy” that correct this and other factual errors in Hedges’ article.

Hedges’ Numerous Critics (Besides Me)

The longest and most comprehensive critique of Hedges’ article, The Folly of Chris Hedges, appeared on Infoshop News later the same day. Infoshop News provides links to other excellent critiques of “The Cancer in Occupy.” Two of the best (IMHO) are an article by Don Gato on the AK Press website entitled To Be Fair He is a Journalist: A Short Response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc and magpie’s I am the Cancer (or ArmchairsGTFO).*

For me the major problem with “The Cancer in Occupy” is Hedges’ failure to acknowledge that 1) the debate over “diversity of tactics” (i.e. incorporating tactics other than exclusive nonviolent resistance) has been raging for months in local Occupy groups and 2) his views represent only one side of the debate. Contrast his Truthdig article with more objective articles in the Occupy Wall Street Journal and on the Occupy Oakland website that present both sides: Diversity of Tactics or Divide and Conquer and The Revolution Will Be Strategized: Reflections on Diversity of Tactics From NYC.

A Generational Split Over Diversity of Tactics

I first became aware of the “diversity of tactics” debate when Making Contact radio played excerpts from the December 15th forum “How Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down: Diversity of Tactics vs Nonviolence in the Occupy Movement.” ( There has been an erroneous assumption by many armchair liberals and progressives that commitment to exclusive nonviolent resistance is a basic tenet of the Occupy movement. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the vast majority of occupy protests have been nonviolent, Occupy movements in different cities have taken very different positions about their willingness to engage in corporate property damage and retaliation against police violence. As the WAMMM (Women Against Military Madness blog describes, diversity of tactics advocates are more likely to be young, newly recruited activists. Those favoring exclusive nonviolence are more likely to be older activists who have engaged in civil disobedience in the antiwar or nuclear movement.

A Range of Positions on Diversity of Tactics

Both Occupy Boston and the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park adopted statements in October 2011 endorsing a “diversity of tactics,” as opposed to exclusive nonviolence (see Boston statement of diversity of tactics and Occupty Wall Street Library).

In contrast, both Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy DC began with a commitment to exclusive nonviolence. However after the extreme police violence that accompanied the police crackdown on Occupy sites in many cities, both groups are revisiting this stance (see LA debates diversity of tactics and Should the Should the Occupy Movement Adopt Strategic Non-violence?

Prior to the December 15th public forum, Occupy Oakland had no formal position either way. The outcome of their “How Will the Walls Come Tumbling Down” forum was a refusal to endorse exclusive nonviolence. Occupy Seattle, which held similar internal discussions in December, took a similar position (see Occupy Portland held a similar debate four days ago (see

* “Armchairs” refers to armchair liberals who critique activist efforts without ever becoming actively involved. GTFO translates to “Get the Fuck Out”

To be continued.

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My man Don Gato nails Hedges, actually I have been nailing Hedges for quite a while. You probably missed those comments Dr. They say the same thing Gato does in his first paragraph. Hedges is on my pay no mind list and if you ask me he is suing Obama on behalf of Obamas handlers to create a legal precedent against suing the executive branch. Paul Craig Roberts is the only one telling the truth who seems to be able to get through the Main Stream Medias filters. Maybe Glen Greenwald but I haven't heard him open his mouth on 9/11, so he’s also on my pay no mind list too. As for violence, nobody who has an army at their disposal is going to listen to somebody who doesn’t. Not in this world, maybe in the pre Britney Spears Walt Disney world.
I try to pay Hedges no mind, but this particular article was reprinted and quoted on scores of websites - while the excellent critiques of the article were ignored. Hedges passes as the so-called voice of the working class (he's not - he's a preacher's son and has a master's degree in divinity) and has literally hundreds of progressives and liberals hanging on his every word.
I have listened to him at length Hedges is really smart, but so is a king Cobra.
I will say nothing about the violence because I suspect that the violent actors are from the government or the police.
Zumalicious, I am aware this is a widely promoted myth among dogmatic nonviolence advocates - they also strongly promote the notion that swearing at the police, burning flags and defending yourself against police violence is a very bad thing. My experience with government informants is they usually try to get you to do something that will get you sent away for a really long time - such as building and planting bombs. They don't waste their time with window breaking or flag burning. You should really listen to the Making Contact radio program that I link to in the post. I might be wrong, but I would be extremely surprised if all the young people who speak in favor of "diversity of tactics" at the Oakland forum turn out to be government informants.
The phrase "diversity of tactics" is just another illustration of Occupy Whatever's lukewarm diffusion into uselessness. What does it mean? Anything or nothing!

Month after month the entire left-wing blogosphere and whatever passes for old-media leftists obsessed over Occupy This or That, while Obama raised hundreds of millions of dollars and now runs unopposed in the Democratic primaries.

And meanwhile what good did those aimless little mobs do for anybody? The war-machine just keeps grinding forward, hundreds of thousands of homeowners default, and millions of US citizens have been relegated to the status of permanent unemployment, and meanwhile...

A few aimless little mobs with no definite agenda and no leadership appear here and there, and then...

And then nothing.

Absolutely fucking nothing!
About Chris Hedges and his screed about "the black blocs," which aren't any less defined or definable than the rest of Occupy Whatever...

He's just looking for an excuse for OWS to fail, because he can't admit (even to himself) that it failed already.
Jacob, I wouldn't exactly say Occupy Wall Street failed, as OWS clearly brought a large number of previously unengaged young people into political activism for the first time. In most of the cities that had OWS encampments, a core group of OWS continue to meet on a regular basis to help the homeless occupy foreclosed homes and engage in other protest activities.

To be fair, I think expecting any resistance movement to bring down global capitalism in five months is pretty unrealistic, no matter how clear and focused their goals. In my mind the failure of OWS wasn't their lack of leadership or agenda, it was their failure to attract the traditional working class, disadvantaged minorities and women.
The really desperate need of the citizenry is for unbiased, truthful information. They cannot get it from the establishment. Occupy has the opportunity to fill that role. If Occupy can, while providing that education, also offer a clear-cut alternative system to replace this corrupt and criminal regime, it will be on the way to achieving something good; perhaps even great.

But simply to demand of those who are prospering via the present set-up, that they throw down this system, is truthfully ridiculous. So too are demands that they make changes that will not be to their advantage in their own eyes.

The majority of citizens, dimly aware of what might be wrong with the present system, still think that it's a pretty good system but may need a few "adjustments"; to be "tweaked" a bit. They are convinced that there is no viable alternative to this system. Occupy might well occupy its time and efforts in enlightening the mass of citizens of the true state of affairs, and of any alternatives that might serve the population much better than our present system.

Until you have the majority of citizens fully aware of what the problems are and what your proposed solutions to those problems are, you have nothing.

All across the US there are co-ops in existence and being formed by people who see the value in co-operation for their well being and survival. The "grey market", an economy of barter and skills trading, is alive and well.

There is also a growing underground labour market. I'm told that only about 10% of the population earns its living in this way in the US. This percentage is much higher in other countries. In some countries it is actually the way that the majority of the population lives and works.

I mention this because this underground economy presents no organized leadership for the official governments to attack and destroy. Neither can the wealthy elite buy off a leadership that doesn't exist.

The people who are engaged in this underground economic system have not ever had to face the government in battle. They just quietly go on living their lives all around that government, its elite, and its minions, ignoring them for the most part. This is, in my opinion, the path to bloodless revolution. Build an economy of the people, by the people, and for the people. Do not engage in violent war against those in power. They will likely win. Modern weapons in the hands of their police and military are too powerful for the people to face them on the field of battle. But where there is no organized, led, and direct military attack on them there can be no battle won by them. In fact there cannot even be a battle fought by them - there is no apparent enemy.

This is surely not as quick as military action, if military action were possible to the citizens. Perhaps quick is no good thing if it leads to violence and massive deaths, on both sides. This is a very slow method, to be sure. Yet, as slow as it might be, it is far more sure, in the end, than military action could ever be.

Remember too, no regime that ever came to power through violence has ever failed to use violence to solve other problems once in power. None. Ever.

Violence simply doesn't work for the people, in the end. It's time to try another route to a decent society based on an equitable system.
The lack of diversity in the mainstream media enables the Blogosphere to produce a lot of false information that won't be debunked in a high profile manner as well; as you indicated this has been reviewed by some who frequent certain sites but not the majority. Another one which I stumbled on while looking for an article about the Fox coverage of Occupy protesters which were allegedly being paid by unions also had little or no review from the Mass Media even MSNBC which usually jumps on things when Fox promotes them. In this case a relatively small amount of thinking about tactics was enough tin indicate that it didn't make sense, as indicated in my half time post.

As for the bickering that is going on about disinformation and other bureaucratic waste, it is all an enormous amount of stupidity that won't do anyone any good in the long run but until those in power at least try to implement some fairness it has to go on. The only question is how much of this insanity the most authoritarian people will insist on carrying out before they can be removed from power.

There is no doubt that short of submitting to virtual slavery that it can't end any other way if they continue to take such insane positions.
Wow, Skypixeo. You make some really compelling points in your comment. First I really like your point about it being a waste of time to demand that those in power change a system they see as advantageous to their interests. I also really like your point about the role of the Occupy movement enlightening the rest of the public about what's really happening. And we are absolutely on the same page about having a bloodless revolution by enlarging the informal economy and withdrawing from the corporate economy. I have read several analyses that this was a major factor in overthrowing Apartheid in South Africa (or, according to John Pilger, leading the IMF to pressure the Apartheid government to step aside). In addition to the international sanctions, a substantial majority of the townships had ceased to contribute to the South African economy because they had all set up little repair shops, barbershops, etc in their garages.

I'm not sure we need a majority of the population to strip the corporate elite of power - just a lot more people than we have now.

Personally, I am not a big advocate of violence as a solution. Moreover if the Occupy movement decided to get into bomb making or assault rifles, they couldn't do it publicly. They would have to go underground.

That being said, I'm a strong opponent of the dogmatic nonviolence that dominates the progressive movement in the US (this is in marked contrast to grassroots resistance in Europe or even Canada). It's a major turn-off for potential working class and minority recruits to the Occupy movement and other left of center organizing. I personally feel it's a big reason white working class males flock to the Tea Party instead.

It's never going to make sense to working class and minority activists that they should react passively when the police beat them bloody and attack them in the face with pepper spray. The argument that this makes them "morally superior" to the police-security state just won't wash.
Zacchery, from what I can see virtual slavery has already arrived for the vast majority of Americans.
Dr. Bramhall,

I too am not dogmatic about non-violence. That being said, let me clarify.

Violence is only justified where NO OTHER viable option exists; and the search for a non-violent option must be conscientious and thorough. Obviously being violently attacked leaves little recourse, in most cases, but to respond to violence with violence. Yet we must beware at all times, that a powerful enemy will do his best to entice us into resorting to violence so as to "get us on his home ground" so to speak.

It must always be crystal clear to us and to any impartial observer that we eschewed violence until at the point of death or enslavement; that it was indeed a last resort.

Given those circumstances, although too old and gibbled up to partake of the violence myself, I'll be there to pass the ammunition.