The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
Location
New Plymouth, New Zealand
Birthday
December 02
Bio
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 www.stuartjeannebramhall.com

MARCH 1, 2012 9:09PM

The People Under the Black Masks

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Pink black bloc

Pink black bloc

(This is the third of three posts regarding the “diversity of tactics” debate raging in the Occupy movement and Chris Hedges inflammatory February 6th article on Truthdig entitled The Cancer in Occupy)

As Nihilo Zero, Don Gato and others point out, the major problem with Hedges’ article is that the so called “Black Bloc Movement” he attacks in doesn’t exist. Black bloc is a term used to describe a specific tactic – dressing alike (in black) and wearing masks – to avoid identification by the police. Its use is by no means limited to anarchists. Black bloc is employed by activists across the ideological spectrum who wish to avoid identification by the police. Hedges clearly has no direct knowledge or contact with either “black bloc” practitioners or the thousands of other Occupy activists who reject pressure to commit to exclusive nonviolence. Thus the entire article is based on totally erroneous assumptions, starting with Hedges faulty premise that “black block” represents a specific movement with a coherent ideology:

  • According to Hedges, the so-called “Black Bloc” don’t see capitalists as their real enemies. This is an extremely bizarre accusation to make without supporting evidence, especially as “black bloc” doesn’t refer to any specific belief system. Hedges cites an article by an anarchist writer named John Zerzon in making this assertion. However as several critics point out, Zerzon doesn’t speak for the black bloc – no one does.
  • According to Hedges, the so-called “Black Bloc” opposes “all forms of collective organization.” Again, Hedges has absolutely no idea who the people are behind the masks nor the diversity of views they represent. In To Be Fair He is a Journalist: A Short Response to Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc, Don Gato refers readers to real life leftist and Canadian activist Hersha Walia, who helped organize the Tent Village protest at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He provides a link to a speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oesjegD1-Vg) in which she describes friends who engage in black bloc tactics as some of the hardest workers in other movement building activities, for example infoshops that produce and distribute literature, bike and food collectives and other political organizations that deliver services to marginalized groups.
  • According to Hedges, the so-called Black bloc is “rigid” and “dogmatic.” Nihilo Zero points out that it’s actually Hedges who is being rigid and dogmatic when he uses his prestige as a so-called working class journalist to declare off-limits a long list of tactics, such as swearing at the police, destruction of corporate property, flag burning and blocking streets with garbage and debris.
  • According to Hedges, so-called “Black Bloc anarchists” are “hypermasculine damaged males.” Again he has no way of distinguishing the sex of protestors with their faces covered. As Gato suggests, this totally unsubstantiated accusation is a great insult to the Feminist and Queer blocs that participated in Move-In Day in Oakland.
  • According to Hedges, protestors who shout “Fuck the Police” will alienate the people they seek to draw into their movement. Nihilo Zero asks which people? He acknowledges that profanity may alienate uptight politically correct liberals, but not disenfranchised minorities for whom police harassment and violence is a regular, life long experience. He points out that N.W.A’s “Fuck Da Police” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiX7GTelTPM) is one of the most popular songs in American history. For his part, Gato questions the use of “moral superiority” as a draw card for recruiting the disadvantaged. The argument that allowing the police to beat them up without retaliating will impress the masses with activists’ moral superiority shows a total lack of understanding of the circumstances or values of low income Americans.
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In my contact with my local OWS, I found a whole diversity of different demographics and factions. I would imagine that the sam thing holds true of anarchists. Peaceful followers of Kropotkin are not equal to soccer hooligans who might call themselves anarchists. There are anarchists, and there are anarchists. In any group, there are nice people, and there are assholes.

And when you're dealing with a movement like Occupy, the distinction becomes very important. So, while I don't agree with Hedges on his generalization of all anarchists, I will gladly be a police spy on people who are demonstrably assholes.
Hedges - working class journalist? A moment till I stop laughing. So those who are prepared to put the necessary revolution before their life are “hypermasculine damaged males”? So Hedges has been watching Fight Club, so have I. Hopefully Chris was paying careful attention to the closing scene obviously the Bush siblings were. Note to the “working class journalist” (LOL): the Jungian psychology was just the back drop to that film. The corporate sponsored intelligentsia, such as yourself Chris, would like to make it the storyline but the film critics have already spoken the inconvenient truth. Gary Crowdus: “What truly distinguishes fight club…is it’s pungent satire whose numerous targets include the soul deadening consequences of excessive materialism, cynical corporate policy's based on indifference to human life, festering work place rage” and only then “repressed male rage and gender – role anxiety.” Mustn't place the apple before the cart Chrissie Poo. Maybe Chris just needs to get his head out of his animus but I think its far more likely that Chris is cashing checks courtesy of some front for a right wing think tank, especially when we take into account Chris's own work history and right of center political views. Beat up any black drug dealers lately Chris? I am willing to bet that they were 13 years old.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zotYU21qcU&feature=player_embedded
[r] Stuart, I appreciate once again your bringing this issue to our attention and I read the Hedges article and it felt discordant and confusing as well as alarming in its overgeneralized presentation. But I caution you not to do the same and paint non-violence advocates simply as "politically uptight elitists" who haven't been shoved around enough as the working and minority classes. You may fall into the same Hedges trap.

If this debate is RAGING than there are obviously some strong values churning up on both sides of it and I am glad for those non-violence advocates. Civil disobedience is a strong weapon in protesting and drawing attention to issues. But I also think "ends don't justify the means" and "two wrongs don't make a right" and there is a dangerous slippery slope being advocated by those advocating violent protesting.

The manipulations of the police state-like authorities are now robbing us more and more of the civil right to assemble and exercise free speech. Yes, the ante is being raised profoundly which is heart-breaking and demands consciousness of the majority of citizens who seem hopelessly numbed out. They say the underfunctioning of one person or social group certainly triggers the overfunctioning of the other person or social group (probably why I slip or deliberately go into ranting when I write about war and health care, etc.) But I advocate non-violence.

I remember back in the late 60s being told to go back to my "ivory tower" in the working class neighborhood I was protesting in for anti-war and civil rights issues, both. New Haven, CT. It was reverse snobbery. There was real malice coming at me, by an older, black activist leader who was not at all inclined to mentor me or my fellow young white female protesters with me at the time as activists. In fact, using us as his verbal punching bag I felt some misogyny also coming at us. Yeah, it was a college city and maybe he had had his fill of perhaps Yalie cherry-picking in and out commitment and elitism there (I was not a Yalie) but I was a young adult stepping up to the plate wanting to add my voice and I didn't deserve that knee-jerk, undeserved, wet-blanketing dismissal and contempt. I felt his frustration over class and ethnic disadvantage was mis-aimed to punish me personally, who was becoming or wanted to become more involved and had a growing social conscience. Yeah, I was naive. But that was not a sin. A reason to reject me.

I remember your earlier blogs about the working class bonding we desperately need in the liberal fight against the numbed-out conservatism locking our country down, and the "pragmatism" betrayal of the Obamacrats to those basic ideals who are lost in minimization and denial. Yes, I endorse pushing for and addressing such a bonding. But I don't think working class should be equated with those willing to be violent because they have experienced more violence against them. I think those who have not been as chronically abused by the police and institutions need to be addressed and have their empathy cultivated. I think the extreme forms of protests will turn off the potential of recruiting people from all social camps and raising their consciences. best, libby
Wow, lots of heavy discussion here. I want to start with Libby's comment. She always leaves such lovely thought provoking comments on my posts. It usually takes me awhile to digest them.

In the first place, I did my best to maintain a neutral position in these posts. Maybe I wasn't totally successful. I was merely trying to summarize the articles criticizing Hedges' rant in Truthdig - in the interest of media fairness. None of them have received much, if any, play in the so-called alternative media.

I am actually quoting Don Gato's view of liberals as "politically uptight elitists." I don't happen to share this view. However after 30 years as a grassroots activists, I have met scores of potential working class activists (white and black) who view them this way. I have also met scores who talk about attending one meeting of one peace and justice issue group or another and being treated so abominably by the educated professionals who ran the meetings that they never went back.

I also have been in email contact with a few working class women activists who were so put off by the "Nonviolent pledge" they were forced to sign before being allowed to Occupy DC that they hitchhiked out to California to join either Occupy Oakland (which has consistently supported a Diversity of Tactics) or a woman-only occupation in southern California.

I think there is a misunderstanding of what is meant by Diversity of Tactics. It definitely doesn't mean people are obligated to engage in property destruction or to defend themselves if the police attack them. What really impresses me the most about people who engage in black bloc tactics is that they always seem to be the hardest working activists and most ready to put their hand up for other grassroots organizing tasks, feeding the homeless, setting up volunteer clinics. They also frequently engage in nonviolent protest, where they believe this is the approach most likely to be successful. Thus I feel excluding these people because they refuse to sign a nonviolent pledge is a big mistake. I think this was a very serious strategic error on the part of Occupy DC. I come from a working class background myself and don't know anyone from a similar background who would sign something like that.

I'm really very sorry to hear about your experience in New Haven. What you are describing sounds like really bad behavior by someone who was pretty fucked up personally or working for the government. I was very lucky to work with a number of really experienced African American activists who ran multiracial coalitions in Seattle. One of the first things they did was to bend over backwards to make the white activists feel comfortable in the group. We all got a little orientation about the Freedom Summer during the civil rights movement in the South and how this never would have been possible without all the white students who came down from the North. We had one Baptist pastor, in fact, who told us that none of MLK's civil rights victories could have happened without the support of white liberals.

As for the Diversity of Tactics debate in the Occupy movement, I think it all comes down to two questions 1) Do we want to exclude the working class by being dogmatic in our position on nonviolence? and 2) How are we going to deal with people who attend our protest marches and break windows, set fires etc? Do we exclude them from the Occupy movement and turn them into the police (some "nonviolent" protestors propose ripping their masks off) to stop them from breaking the law? I can assure you that going in this direction will be even more alienating to the working class. Or do we try to embrace them in the Occupy movement and respectfully request that any illegal activity be disciplined and well-organized?

One more point, Libby, I really think you should see the recent film by Derrick Jensen End:Civ (you can watch it free at http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/end-civ-resist-or-die/

As Jensen points out, the Jews tried nonviolent resistance and the Nazis shot them anyway. I, like Jensen, have a really hard time distinguishing Nazi fascism from the current political structure in the US. Not only has the US government adopted indefinite detention without trial, but Obama reserves the right to assassinate anyone he wants without evidence, trial or oversight. Legally there's absolutely nothing to stop the police or military from shooting nonviolent protestors if Obama decides they pose a threat to his government.

I think Jensen poses a very important question in his film. Exactly how bad do things have to get for Americans to undertake (violent) resistance against the corporate fascism that currently occupies the US?
Old new lefty, movement building is fucking hard work and you deal with a lot of assholes and a lot of people who are drawn to violence because it turns them on. The main problem with full fledged riots is that it usually destroys the community you are trying to build and empower. Any white corporates who get their businesses burned down simply collect on the insurance and walk away.

Jack, I'm with you. Hedges is on the payroll. Karl Marx used to claim that he could detect the disinformation agents from their writing style. Later after he was long dead and they opened up the secret files, he was always right.

Speaking of Fight Club, I seem to be addicted. I've been addicted to it ever since it came out as a short story. It's like my daughter when she was little and the Wizard of Oz. I can't stop watching it. Do you have any idea why this might be?
http://www.truth-out.org/interview-chris-hedges-about-black-bloc/1328799148

JAM: You speak of the black bloc as though it were a political organization with membership, a violent, secretive, nihilistic cabal, which calls to mind the Black Hand, conveniently. It sounds like a really snarky question, but I swear I am genuinely interested in your answer: were you aware writing this piece that that is not an apt description of a black bloc, which is no organization at all, but a protest tactic that does more than just smash and burn?

Chris Hedges: I put in there that they detest organization of any kind. I use part of their jargon - "feral" and "spontaneous" protest - whereby you walk down a street and nothing is planned. You walk by a window and you break it. They feel that any kind of attempt to plan immediately imposes a kind of hierarchy that they oppose. That's in the piece. There's a limit to expounding upon the internal - I didn't get into primitive anarchism and all this kind of stuff. But that was certainly part of the piece. It's precisely because they detest - there's a line in the article that says that they are opposed to those of us on the organized left. The operative word is "organization."
I confess . . . I'll need sleep (still) before a serious read. I'll reread later and share.
I followed Jacob Freeze.
He's not brain dead, yet.
The editor may be okay?
`
Nighttime reads are fun.
`
`
dimly lit room . . .
staff gets sloshed
debating who's cool
`
geography class . . .
debating which country's name
is the most macho
`
in local bar tonight
two Civil War buffs
fight over which Southern state
suffered the most
`
Thanks for sharing your research.
Thanks, Stuart, for the dialogue.

Somehow I think that famous quote from A Man For All Seasons movie delivered by Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas Moore to his son-in-law is useful to my position here:

"William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!"

And yes, I know what ultimately happened to Moore, but he stood by the law that existed even though it was twisted and defied by the one percenter narcissists then.

I see a great vulnerability of protesters in defying the law for their welfare personally, and I know they are sacrificing their welfare already by taking on a corrupt state even with the basic act of assembly we presumably have a right to (though I know in NYC how bastardly Bloomberg got in issuing or not "permits" and even ignoring them when they were extended, like during the Republican convention, and his Gestapo behavior with ZPark).

Once a fellow correntewire activist and I decided to demonstrate for single payer outside Rep. Carolyn Maloney's office one Saturday afternoon in Manhattan before Obamacare was passed and my friend applied for the permit and when we showed up, the two of us, later two more came, but originally just the two of us, standing in the cold with our flyers and coffees, we noticed blue planks along the curb outside Maloney's building and initially eight cops showed up, some in this bright and shiny white SUV with Homeland Security labels on the doors which flew open as they leapt out and I was so slow-witted I at first didn't get they had arrived to FACE DOWN US!!!! I looked at the blue planks on the curb and thought, "Oh my, they were for us if we had rallied more people! Geeeeez."

A couple white shirted superiors were with the blue uniformed cops initially. They had those blank hard faces they present to lawbreakers -- even though the two of us nodded and said hello -- we were ALREADY THE ENEMY in our exercising our right of free speech and assembly AND THERE WERE TWO OF US AND EIGHT OF THEM but you could feel that wall of hostility, two troublemaking women on a beautiful crisp fall Saturday. The cops that remained, four then only two when it was clear we had not attracted masses, stood with arms folded across their chests, on either side of the outside door of the building though Maloney wasn't in there and her office was somewhere on an upper floor, as if we, my gentle friend and two others who finally came, may turn into a sudden physical threat to her and not out there to try to pass out our flyers and talk about the benefits of Single Payer as opposed to the crap lies of Obamacare or even worse.

Many passersby thought we were Tea Partiers since the media has done such a grand job NEVER acknowledging there is a substantial block of citizens on the left who ARE NOT BEHIND OBAMA and even many who consider he should be impeached rather than re-elected, and the passersby were startled that there was any organization by any citizens against the will of Obama.

We got through to a lot of people considering with our talk and flyers. When people read about Single Payer they got excited and when they read about the weaknesses about Obamacare they were angry. Really angry. All the disinformation and vagueness used to hide the exploitation of the one percenters and the betrayal of the government reps including Obama.

I talked to or gave out 60 flyers in the limited time our permit gave us, though even in NYC some people became so enraged at us for doing any political action against THE STATUS QUO. One woman who was an older matron very well dressed when I began to explain my position actually put her hands over her ears and jumped up and down shrieking no like a little kid. That actually got a look over from the cops as to what I was doing to her. I just stood with my mouth hanging open wondering what on earth was wrong with her.

Don't mess with people's clutching to even a destructive status quo. They will melt down sometimes.

You know, all those cops initially, and then the two left with us gave us more attention from the passersby and a cachet, but again even when they saw we were four friendly unthreatening in action and numbers women there was that arms akimbo grim and hostile stance as they were the reps of the state -- hypervigilant to ACT OUT ON US with the slightest provocation clearly. Hairtrigger response time it was clear. Overkill response it would clearly be. THERE WERE ONLY TWO THEN FOUR OF US, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE. It didn't matter. They had their mode.

The experience was sobering. As were several of my experiences in larger groups with occupy, and I was I confess too infrequent an attendant and participant, but I am sure so many of the other occupiers like myself were naive about the "instant demonization" by the police in girding themselves to "do their jobs" and deal with people of conscience. Though it made me cheer to hear the cops in Wisconsin joined the overnight protesters against Walker and the crazy unfairness there. And that is what we need to have happen.

But I can't endorse the black bloc methods and see them as alienating those who do not endorse violence and will repel those who may join up, though yes, I see the unfairness and the frustration of those putting their lives so on the line and their welfare and risking incarceration for reform. Incarceration into the nightmare of the jail system in this country.

I see what Manning did as not unlawful and I do endorse his act of conscience in the name of law, a higher law than the faux-law protecting lawbreakers in authority -- the treason of the rogue military. That is why he is such an enemy of the state. Because that young man called out the EVIL AND INTERNATIONAL CRIMINALITY of our government. It was not treasonous to law, because the law also states that unlawfulness should not be honored, a higher law must prevail in those cases, the message of Nuremberg, you don't follow blindly orders that are anti-law, anti-humanity, and anti the constitution. Though Obama has the distinction of being the president who has prosecuted the MOST whistleblowers of anyone. Whistleblowers, people of conscience, calling out their corrupt authorities to warn the public. Obama, friend of the criminal class. The public, too complacent too often to care.

The toxic patriarchy of this country is rapidly trying to destroy the authority and actual laws themselves of the constitution. They are the criminals with media power, with governmental power, with the police and weaponry.

And militarization of troops, whether for war or domestic (the war on the citizenry), the indoctrination and training of troops, is about stripping those individuals of the authority of their individual identities to become a useful collective "FORCE" and "TOOL" for the authority directing them. Which made those cops who I tried to speak to that Saturday afternoon offer a hard face back to my brief and friendly courteousness to them, many years my junior.

How especially courageous for troops and vets to face down that incredible group-think patriarchal power and control to the masters of their environment and their group-think bonded buddies and to say NO. To not follow corrupt rules of engagement or more likely no rules of engagement, institutionalized murder.

How especially torturous for those individuals of strong conscience who find themselves being exploited for the murder of innocents. No wonder the troops and vet suicide rate, so blithely ignored by so many in this country, is so alarming and should be heeded by our governance. But these leaders are so addicted to gamesmanship and their own amoral groupthink, and the narcissism that even that tragedy for the troops they give hypocritical lip service to support has no chink in it to let in some genuine empathy and compassion. They can't let it in for those foreigners they are annihilating for greed and power, and they can't let it in for the betrayed young adult children of America, either. As for the rest of the citizenry to minimize this horror ... I don't honestly get it. Such authoritarian following in the face of statistics, though God knows the media doesn't hover on them at all if ever.

Thanks for the link to the Jensen film, Stuart. I intend to watch it.

I have always been working class. My family working class growing up, my dad was a blue collar worker. I was lucky to get to college on student loans and I taught school for a number of years. But for years I have lived in NYC working in the "secretarial ghetto" of corporate America, economically challenged and all the more challenged now as I see my work being more and more outsourced and infrequent, and conditions for those of us still hanging onto work, are reaching sweat-shop proportions, the corporate patriarchy becoming more and more militarized and narcissistic and exploitive.

I do appreciate the role you are playing as messenger, Stuart, and it is a challenging and provocative message you are messaging for sure. And I will explore it more with my own mind, heart and conscience, I promise you. I am still an armchair and blogging protester more than an in the streets one. I am even too much on the fringes of the Green Party that I want to promote more and more and the candidacy of Jill Stein.

I was thinking more and more this week about the activism of the early Suffragettes for women's rights. How they were mocked and considered crazy and the malice came out against them from men and from their "misogynized" sisters who saw them as a threatening and worthy of pushback and oppression from the patriarchal culture. How hard that must have been. Some also employed black bloc methods, some of them. And hunger strikes iirc.

I think of that young man in Tunisia wasn't it who immolated himself and that was a tipping point for the "Arab Spring". Violence against the self, an ultimate one, to send a message of such anguish and tragic and ultimate (I keep saying) protest over one's life conditions. I think of the hunger strikes and suicides at Gitmo in which the patriarchal bastards there reduced those acts of courage by those poor men to "manipulative pr" and "asymmetrical warfare", so divorced from empathy were they. Dear God! Yes, it was warfare, actually, I agree. Warfare using their lives as a cryout of obscene abuse of power.

Okay, Stuart. Enough for now. Thanks for sharing and listening. Take care! best, libby
Sorry, Stuart. I thought I had lost my comment and wrestled with the system and it duplicated. Sigh. libby
No worries, Libby. I will delete one of your comments.

I think your description of your courageous single payer protest shows clearly there are times where nonviolence is the best strategy. All Diversity of Tactics supporters acknowledge this. They just want to make room for other tactics, as well.

In Occupy Oakland there seems to be great sensitivity and respect for nonviolent advocates. About a month ago, they advertised a march with the caution that a "diversity of tactics" might be employed. This was a warning, to families with children particularly, of the anticipated nature of the protest march. As it turned out, the march that eventuated was totally nonviolent (because, I suspect, there was no police violence to contend with).
Jacob, Hedges clearly doesn't understand the point of the question. There is no Black Block Movement because black bloc merely describes a tactic. The people who participate in black bloc belong to a variety of organizations, as Walia points out in her video, that participate in a broad range of movement building activities. In addition to organizing infoshops, food and free clinics, etc for the homeless, they also participate in black bloc protests (in other words they disguise themselves to keep the police from identifying them).

It's ridiculous for Hedges to link beliefs or language such as "feral" to people who engage in black bloc because they aren't a unified entity. In his article he mainly quotes an anarchist named Zarzan. However as I point out in my post, Zarzan doesn't speak for people who engage in black bloc. No one does because it's not a movement. It's a tactic engaged in by individuals who belong to a broad range of organizations and engage in a wide range of activism.
Hedges describes the black bloc rioters as ad hoc gangs of primitive anarchists with no organization whatsoever, and Dr, Bramhall "refutes" him by repeating that they aren't a "movement."

"Ad hoc gangs!"

"Not a movement!"

This is funny, but the same description also applies to the entire Occupy "Movement"...

...ad hoc mobs with no definite agenda and only almost no organization...

...and that isn't so funny, because the US Left has wasted month after month waiting for this ridiculous blob to self-organize like the primitive sea-bottom slime from which all life apparently arises.

The only problem is that we can't afford to wait 2 billion years for Occupy Whatever to evolve into something a little more organized than pudding.