An Open letter regarding the Non-violence Vs Diversity of tactics debate

The following letter was written by a participant in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle who wishes to remain anonymous. Views expressed are those of said activist speaking as an autonomous individual.

Open Letter to Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle,

I am writing concerning the debate about nonviolence vs. diversity of tactics. I can’t be at GAs this week because I am visiting friends and speaking about the port shutdown to folks from Occupy Wall Street in NYC. Please share this with people on all sides of the debate; I wished to raise some of these points in the GA on Tuesday but was never called on (which is okay, a lot of other people had crucial things to say). For transparency’s sake, I wish to emphasize I am definitely part of the broad “radical” tendency of Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle, but I do not speak for all radicals. We have no representatives or leadership structure; in fact, we are a loose grouping of like-minded activists, not an organization. Here I wish to emphasize a particular radical perspective that I think has been unfortunately drowned out by the polarizing debate.

First of all, I want to emphasize that when radicals argue for a “diversity of tactics”, we are not arguing for “anything goes.” If someone advocated a stupid tactic that would put all of us in unnecessary danger than the radicals would surely oppose this. There are all sorts of stupid tactics. Some of them, like trying to explain to a police officer why he should support a militant direct action would be considered “nonviolent.” Others, like setting off a bomb near cops stationed inside the family-friendly “green zone” of a demonstration, would be considered “violent”. We’d try to stop both of these because both of these would surely lead to violence coming down on folks who have not chosen to participate in a violent action – the first by giving the police info that could lead to violent arrests of fellow activists, the second because it endangers protesters’ lives.

In contrast, “diversity of tactics” means we are are open to all sorts of smart tactics that would be considered nonviolent by the mainstream society, as well as others that are similarly smart, but get labeled as “violent” by the mainstream media. Basically, I think we should start the conversation with the question: which tactics are smart and which ones aren’t? We may find we have more agreement there then we’d expect, agreement that’s getting overlooked in this debate about violence vs. nonviolence.

Given that, I think we need a clear, non-polemical answer to this question: why is this debate happening right now? If folks think it is because liberals are trying to take over the GA they need to prove it. If folks think it is because radicals are trying to take over the GA then they need to prove it. If it is for a different reason, what is that reason? I think answering this question will help us move forward.

My hypothesis is that this is coming up right now because the movement is at a turning point. We no longer have the camp, which brought out its own clear social groupings that have been in motion together since the fall. Some of these groupings have been dumpies (downwardly mobile urban professionals who the economic crisis has dumped into the working class), homeless folks, unemployed folks, and low wage workers. We are asking now: what new strategies can continue to mobilize these social groupings together ? What strategies can reach out to new groupings that we haven’t yet reached? Which groups should we be trying to reach? Is it possible to reach all communities at once? If not, which communities should be prioritized?

It’s clear the movement still has vitality, but it does not yet have a new direction. Really, we should be debating about how to find that direction. There is no reason why that debate should rip us apart, especially since it is entirely possible that some of us might choose to focus on some communities, and other might choose to focus on others, and that’s okay because we’ve already established a principle of autonomy in the movement.

Instead of having these debates in a healthy way, a few folks from the liberal faction of Occupy Seattle decided to frame the debate in terms of violence vs. nonviolence. It think this is unfortunate. We are trying to name and debate about the “elephant in the room” which is how this movement can grow as it enters its second phase. A few of the liberals have found the elephant’s tail and they are shouting “I found the elephant! We need to be nonviolent!”.

However, beneath their overzealousness lies some serious political concerns that can’t easily be dismissed, and need to be addressed through healthy political debate. Their main argument, as far as I can tell, is that unless we adopt a policy of nonviolence, they won’t be able to reach out to the groups they want to reach out to (groups that will be turned off by anything that can be labeled violent). This is a serious point that deserves a serious political response.

To give folks the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume that not all of the folks who are for the nonviolence proposal are doing it simply to get funding from liberal groups. Some might be, but some of them are probably doing it simply because they want people from their communities to participate and may be getting strong criticisms from their communities for the actions that some of the radicals in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle have done. This could be amplified as folks spend time with family over the holidays, and face pressure around the dinner table.

The main response from the radical faction, as far as I can tell, is equally serious: if we adopt a policy of nonviolence, then we wont be able to reach out to the groups we want to reach out to: groups that face systematic racist, sexist, capitalistic, and homophobic violence and will not participate if we are required to renounce our capacity for self-defense. Radicals also face pressure from our communities – life is getting increasingly harder, there is more and more drama going on as the economic crisis deepens, and people all around us are asking how we can come together to provide safety for each other as we struggle to get free. Just when we think Decolonize/Occupy could be a way to provide this safety, we are faced with a mandatory nonviolence proposal that will tie our hands and make it harder for us to do that.

I think if we could cut out a lot of the rhetorical fireworks and focus the discussion on these contending points, we might be able to reach a breakthrough. I do think some choices will need to be made about which community’s concerns we prioritize most, but this does mean that other communities need to be shut out of the movement and it does not mean we need to split.

For example, I think that this movement should be grounded in, and in solidarity with, the struggles of working class communities of color. Wall St. and the 1% get their profits by exploiting working class people of color more than they exploit working class white people. (Note, when I say working class I don’t just mean people who currently work, I also mean unemployed folks, and anyone who has been displaced, dispossessed, or separated from their land and the means of production by colonialism). I do think that this movement will not be relevant to working class communities of color if it relies on the police for safety. In a white supremacist society, people of color are far too likely to be attacked by police or by racist white people. For this reason, it is unfair and unrealistic to ask folks to check their capacity for self-defense at the door if they wish to join the movement. A mandatory nonviolence policy also puts at risk people of color who have been tirelessly building this movement from the beginning. That’s not right and we won’t let it happen.

However, I don’t think the radicals’ response to this demand has simply been “white people go home.” If you listen closely, folks are not saying white people have no role in the movement. Most radicals are simply saying the movement should not be white dominated and white people should not be telling people of color they can’t defend themselves.

Many of the radicals recognize that white people are not all the same, and that white women, queer, transgender, working class, and gender nonconforming folks are also much more likely to be attacked by police or by other violent, reactionary forces in society than white middle and upper class straight men are. We want to build alliances, and defending each other is part of that.

This piece by a few of the radicals argues that working class white people are actually facing less and less privilege under the system. The economic crisis has lead to even greater attacks on working class people of color, but it has also lead to attacks on working class white folks. It is in the interest of working class white folks to unite with working class people of color, and to be in solidarity with their struggles: http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/occupy-to-end-capitalism/. Not all radicals agree with this article, but it’s worth considering.

It’s important to emphasize that none of the radicals are advocating that Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle should take a position of guerilla warfare or armed revolutionary warfare right now. This is a straw-man argument that some liberals have raised to discredit us. Primarily, many radicals are concerned about our personal safety and our need to defend ourselves. People won’t join the movement if they know they will be needlessly unsafe within it.

At a broader level, many of us are part of this movement because we believe in taking responsibility for all aspects of our lives, including matters of security and accountability. We don’t believe in leaving these up to a racist, capitalist, sexist, and heterosexist police and judicial system. We wish to start building an alternative, rooted in the same principles of autonomy and direct democracy that animate the General Assembly. Many of us were central to attempts to provide safety in the camp. We are not saying we oppose this nonviolence proposal because we love violence. We are saying we oppose it because it limits our ability to take responsibility for ourselves and each other. In some respects, it actually means we’d have less freedom than we do outside of the movement, which seems backwards.

I am hearing from some white middle class folks that they can’t be associated with OS unless it takes a pledge of nonviolence because their own communities will see them as violent by association even if they don’t participate in violence themselves. They are saying that being in a movement that is labeled violent will hurt their organizing efforts more than it will hurt radicals if we are associated with a movement that is “nonviolent.” First of all, this is not accurate. In many of our communities, we will be seen as naive, whitewashed, bourgie, or not serious if we are associated with a movement that is known to require nonviolence for all of its participants. Worse, some reactionaries out there might think that they can take advantage of us more easily because the movement has required us to renounce our capacity for self-defense and we might be put at danger.

Given this, I don’t think the nonviolence proposal should be passed. At the same time, I don’t think that radicals should just dismiss liberals, including white middle class liberals, when they say that the defeat of this proposal will mean it’ll be harder for them to organize in their communities. I think that Occupy Seattle should work together to make it clear to the public that we are for a diversity of tactics, not mandatory self-defense or armed struggle. We should make it clear that folks who believe in nonviolence can still participate in the movement. We should also try to open up a dialogue about how organizers from white middle class backgrounds can go back to their communities and explain why Occupy Seattle has not passed a mandatory nonviolence resolution. This could be a great opportunity to educate and challenge folks, and to expand the movement.

At the same time, I think radicals should be careful not to catch people in the crossfire. (to be fair, most of us have been careful, but if the debate polarizes further this could become an issue). Not everyone who believes in nonviolence is white, and not everyone is a liberal. And some people who started out liberal have become radicals the past few months; others are somewhere in between. The vitality of the radicals so far is that we have not hardened into a rigid organization. We don’t have our own borders or leaders. We have many voices. We are open to new people joining; many of us are in fact new to organizing, and folks who are more experienced are working together for the first time. This is exceptional – it is not happening as much in other cities, and it is a major reason for the dynamism not only of Seattle’s radical scenes but of Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle as a whole. It is also a major reason for the sucess of the port shutdown. If we start to draw hard lines against everyone who belives in nonviolence then we will loose this vitality. If someone believes in nonviolence and they’re willing to shut down ports chanting “everything for everyone the revolution has begun”, then we should work together.

I’ve been doing research recently on the tactics police use when they try to infiltrate and destroy movements. One tactic they have used over and over again is to infiltrate liberal circles and label all radicals as violent extremists, or to suggest that radicals are police provocatuers to discredit them. Often, their goal is to join and encapsulate/ contain a movement within a limited and moderate set of goals. Another tactic they have used is to infiltrate radical circles in attempts to provoke an over-reaction against liberal nonviolence, and a premature split. They want radicals to become closed off, paranoid, and mistrustful so that our organizations and communities will no longer be accessible or attractive to new folks. I think Seattle’s radicals are too smart to fall for that. I hope Seattle’s liberals are as well. I have no evidence that there are police agents in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle currently, but I do think that how we handle this debate will affect our long-term resiliency in the face of possible police interference.

One of the things that disappoints me about this debate is that there have been few folks who have made arguments from a principled, radical pacifist perspective. It seems most of the main arguments for the nonviolence proposal center around tactics, not principle. I worry that folks who believe in nonviolence on principle might be getting sidelined or silenced. I am not a pacifist today, but I first became an activist through Christian and interfaith organizing against the war in Iraq, and was deeply inspired by radical pacifists like Daniel Berrigan who burned a bunch of draft files with homemade napalm and went underground to evade the FBI because he thought that a violent, oppressive, racist state has no right to apprehend him and put him on trial. This goes a lot further than classic notions of civil disobedience where you’re supposed to turn yourself in to accept the legitimacy of the system minus the one law you are protesting because you think it’s unjust. In fact, I think Berrigan’s actions actually have a little more in common with some tactics used by anarchists, and I’m not sure, but I think he may have considered himself an anarchist pacifist.

Berrigan was working in solidarity with the Black Panthers and the Vietnamese resistance movements against colonialism. He wanted to build a nonviolent alternative to the armed solidarity work being done by groups like the Weather Underground. However, he didn’t distance himself from the Underground or from the Panthers or any other armed groups. He was not ashamed to be associated with the anti-war movement just because these groups were a part of it. Instead, he stayed in the movement and tried to create a nonviolent option for resistance through his own activity.

Instead of trying to impose mandatory nonviolence resolution, I encourage those who really believe in nonviolence to figure out ways to challenge the violence of the state, capitalism, patriarchy, rape culture, heterosexism, and white supremacy. We can work together on that. If you want to challenge it nonviolently, I respect that. But to be philosophically consistent, you shouldn’t collaborate with politicians, cops, and the system because the system is incredibly violent. Instead, you should think of ways to work with the radicals in Occupy Seattle to oppose the violence of this society. If you want to do that nonviolently, then organize yourselves to do it. I’m sure you will find support, even from those of us who may be labeled as “violent”. That’s what “diversity of tactics” is all about.

I’m not an anarchist, but I’ll end with a quote from an anarchist flyer that was distributed at the camp this fall. It is a reminder of why we are all here in the first place: “the greatest violence would be to return to normal.” After what we’ve all been through together we can’t just walk away from this movement without inflicting great violence on our own hearts, minds, and souls. Think about the level of of repression and denial that it will take to walk away and to go back to a “normal” life where you just put up with a future-less, dream-less reality full of endless work and economic anxiety. Trying to readjust to that just because you lost a debate in the GA is a recipe for misery. Doing that to yourself is way more violent then anything the radicals have done in this movement.

peace and solidarity,
participant in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle

32 Responses to An Open letter regarding the Non-violence Vs Diversity of tactics debate

  • tigertheo says:

    I totally agree with this letter. Here is my logic of why nonviolence is better than violence (even in self defense): I believe that violence only begets more violence and causes a degradation of the love and respect people have for each other in our society. I too would want to avoid being locked up for years by an illegitimate system.

    However, I believe that there are more important debates to be having in Occupy Seattle than about non-violence. Personally, I think we need to draw the line somewhere, for example no molotov cocktails, no killing people, no unprovoked assaults of anyone… But we should not try to over think things.

  • Duff says:

    KUDOS! KUDOS!! This letter from “participant in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle” is the most mature, most practical and most potentially unifying analysis I have read or heard regarding our current polarizing crisis over “violence” and “non-violence”.

    I would suggest it as mandatory reading for all in Occupy Seattle except that would fan our flames of dissension. OS is about voluntarily collaborating and not compelling.

    The letter offers keen insight into why many People of Color reject compulsory non-violence for OS as a threat to their ability to defend themselves.

    I resonate profoundly with this ability to defend ourselves from the Killer Kulture in which we find ourselves fighting for our lives.

    I am a white male elderly poor person. If I chose to, I could have the federal government classify me as Very Low Income. I own no home, no car, no 401(k). I have suffered crippling injury and catastrophic hearing loss. Daily, I fight fiercely for survival against our Killer Kulture—using tactics many white people of privilege would find abhorrent. Giving more tactical details here would compromise my use of those tactics. But know they are aggressive. I will fight for my right to be on this planet! I absolutely reserve my right to choose whatever means I think will best defend My Right To Exist.

    So, I naturally gravitate toward the radicals within OS, even though I can “pass” for middle class white. But I understand the real concerns of those in OS who are middle class white folks.

    That’s why I think this letter is so important.

    This letter from “participant in Decolonize/ Occupy Seattle” offers both liberals and radicals practical tools for recruiting within their respective communities—while expanding our Occupy Seattle alliances.

    I salute the letter’s author for courage and wisdom and fairness.

    I salute all Occupy Seattle folks for staying with us as we grope toward ways of surviving and growing and dismantling the 1%.

    SOLIDARITY!

    Duff

  • Corpulace says:

    “Diversity of Tactics” is a euphamism. “Smart tactics” is a euphamism. Why do you feel your hands tied by a statement that Occupy Seattle is a nonviolent organization, but refuse to explain what “diversity of tactics” means.

    The author states: “diversity of tactics” means we are are open to all sorts of smart tactics that would be considered nonviolent by the mainstream society, as well as others that are similarly smart, but get labeled as “violent” by the mainstream media.”

    What does that mean? Why filter your idea of “smart tactics” through what the MSM would consider violent. You have no problem labeling what it means to be a supporter of nonviolence.

    Your letter sets up a comparison between “Nonviolence vs a Diversity of Tactics”. But then you still remain vague on what types of “smart tactics” are included in that diversity. You fail to define what type of violent tactics you would consider “smart”.

    Who decides what is “smart violence”? And who decided that as a “White Liberal Pacifist”, my main concern about protesting with #os is what all my “White Liberal Pacifist” friends will think. I find it extremely hypocritical to protest violence in the system by including violence as a tactic of our own. That has been my main concern from day one.

    By the way, this web site calls #occupyseattle a nonviolent movement in it’s “About” section. You guys might want to consider changing that soon.

  • Sjdubs says:

    A wonderful write up indeed.

    It’s obvious that we’re going to face some tough times ahead but I hope that we can muster up the solidarity needed to move forward. I think tolerance is going to lay at the foundation of what solidarity we do produce. Dogmatic approaches to the violence vs nonviolence debate will chip away at such tolerance and solidarity.

    Thank you.

  • Dktr_Sus says:

    A couple of examples of “diversity of tactics” failures:

    1.) – Chase Bank Occupation on Broadway
    A group of people occupied the bank and were led away to arrest peacefully. Good action, done well … *except* … outside the crowd (some poutingly deprived their attention?) caused a near riot, pushing, shoving and assaulting the police. To what end? To ruin a good action? To get their adrenaline rush?

    2.) – Port Shutdown
    Thousands of people march, but the majority leave the end site early when it turns out to be a *photo-op* for a band of egotists. The port could have been shut down by thousands of marching people moving on the sidewalk (legally) – while singing and sharing solidarity night and day with the truckers. Instead, it turned into a ‘war game’ with swearing, screaming, cop-baiting punks who like to spit and throw things … and drag trash into the road. To what end? The goal seems to be mainly to engage in combat with police. To what end?!

    The “non-violent” people are wrong; the big crowds are going to stop supporting the Occupy Seattle actions, NOT because of the violence, but because of the *stupidity*.

    • GnoLogJ says:

      While I agree with your point, I’d like to add that the failing of “diversity of tactics” in these two examples is that they weren’t tactics but knee-jerk emotional reactions and therefor stupid. Definitely not the “smart” tactical decisions the author is trying to reference.

      • Dktr_Sus says:

        I don’t see anything ‘smart’ mentioned. I see the main point of the original post is that, “some people (of color?!) can’t control themselves, so we can’t *impose* nonviolence on them”. Insult people much? Yes, and the poster is quite ill informed as well.

        BTW, nonviolence CANNOT be imposed on anyone; it has to be something that people take on themselves. It cannot be enforced; it can only be taught, encouraged and supported. People who can’t control themselves (or who need someone else to give them orders) should not even be in the front line of any action. They are not disciplined enough or responsible enough and they put everyone else in danger.

        The crux of the problem is not just ‘actions’ at the protests – it is about taking hatred and revenge into such a volatile situation; that is incredibly stupid. Entering a protest or direct action with the ‘right mindset’ is exactly the kind of thing that is addressed in all nonviolent trainings. We are not playing games here – serious work requires serious training.

        “Diversity of tactics” is exactly the opposite. It has been the standard protocol for Occupy Seattle actions so far – with STUPID (and dangerous) results. Obviously there is no training, no agreements, no self-discipline, no responsibility. It is the “autonomous” anything goes free-for-all of spoiled children who have no concern for anyone else around them.

        The worst thing about this protocol is that it also hasn’t been transparent. Supporters who are unfamiliar with this protocol of “diverse tactics” have shown up at actions expecting a nonviolent movement (as like OWS) and have been caught up in something they don’t support. It always surprises me to see posters/posts/flyers asking people to come to an Occupy Seattle action – and there are no warnings to leave your kids, elderly, and animals at home. Do you “diversity of tactics” people *like* to see others get hurt?

        If you have an example of “smart diverse tactics” that have been successful for Occupy Seattle and have gained us better standing among supporters, protesters and the general public — and have furthered our movement … now would be the time to share it.

        • GnoLogJ says:

          Nonviolence can’t be imposed on anyone? So outing people for even bringing up the subject, or reporting them to police, or immediately assuming they’re a planted provacateur, none of that forces someone’s hand in submitting?

          I agree with you on the fact that it’s not transparent. That’s why I think people who feel that way should exit Occupy and do their own thing which is what I suggested in a post below, and I also respect your point that people like me should just not show up; and that is exactly what I’ve done. What angers me is just the whole authoritarian notion of someone thinking they know best and forcing their opinion on other people, ie, thrashing someone verbally or emotionally just for bringing up a term like “diversity of tactics,” and the authoritarian notion of doing the job of police for them but even more effectively.

          While I can’t give any examples of Occupy Seattle specifically as you asked, in every movement that is celebrated for its nonviolent approach there was an antithesis that was open to the concept of self-defense and put the fear into oppressors. I hate to even have to say this, but if a protest can be ignored it will be. The possibility of violence has to be on the minds of oppressors, even if it’s just the illusion of such, even if it’s misplaced or misunderstood. Do I like to see others get hurt? No, which is why I’m sick and tired of watching my people get their heads bashed in at protests and just taking it. I can’t watch it anymore. It’s why I’m sick of black and brown people all over the world dying at our hands and in our name without ever setting foot on our continent. It’s why I’m sick of people starving to death due to sanctions and political maneuvering. The fate of the world is at stake in ways we’ve never seen before, and I have faith that nonviolent protest is completely effective. But I can’t think of many examples of when has it succeeded without a more violent, separate counterpart.

  • REPUBLIC says:

    This letter is an eye opener to the OS for staying non-violent, because if people use violence it will be reciprocated with violence, but non violence will be reciprocated with solutions. “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Boswell says:

    As a black man, who grew up in poverty in the North East in subsidized housing and remember going to the bodega with food stamps, I find it odd that someone would say we need violence to win minorities over. Bull. I know a ton of poor, urban blacks and most of them look at throwing things at the police with the same disgust that any “white liberal” would.
    Please, stop equating poor people of color with supporters of the radicals. Most of us are what the radicals would consider “liberal”, i.e., we believe in working with the system to change the system and not in some “land of make believe” revolution, which is about as realistic as unicorns running down Yessler.
    As for the proposal in question, it sounded like a good idea. I mean, it could have been tweaked to say that “in some future date violence may be deemed necessary,” if there ever was martial law or something, but as it stands now, violence is hurting this movement, not helping it.
    What will win this thing isn’t violence or some make believe over throw, but rather reason, logic and common sense. That’s what the majority of the people of color want, that’s what the people of America want and that’s what the world is asking for.
    As for violence being “necessary”, I say this: ever hear of a guy named Lech Walesa? He lead the Polish labor movement “solidarity,” which, without violence, forced the communist regime there to change. Think you’re bad staring down SPD? Trying staring down the KGB! If he could do it without violence, then so can we.
    -Boswell, organizer of Reasonable Solutions Occupy Seattle
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reasonable-Solutions-Occupy-Seattle/272842572761405

  • TomH says:

    I’m sorry, but you haven’t convinced me. As a principled pacifist AND a person deeply committed to the success for the OWS movement, I cannot participate with Occupy Seattle unless we reject violence. Non-violence works. Violence only leads to replacing one armed faction with another. Occupy Seattle is anemic compared to the movement in other parts of the country largely because of our unwillingness to reject violence.

    • John Drabble says:

      “Occupy Seattle is anemic compared to the movement in other parts of the country largely because of our unwillingness to reject violence.”

      I agree. I was at a DC occupy site at which a guy who had been advocating violence among the campers stood up to speak at a GA and was told he wouldn’t be allowed to speak because this was a non-violent movement. That encampment still exists. Rock stars and people like Nader have repeatedly stopped by to visit and talk. They do actions almost every day. The Washington Post and other newspaper editorial boards attack them regularly–because they are being effective, not because they are busting windows.

      The guys that want to throw rocks and break windows don’t need Occupy; and Occupy, like the WTO protesters in 1999, don’t need them–because their behavior discredits the movement.

    • GnoLogJ says:

      Non-violence sometimes works, but violence will always exist in some capacity as it’s an instinctual and natural reaction to being attacked. I saw a documentary recently, can’t remember what it was, but the point stated went roughly as such. “Two tribes live near each other. One arms itself and attempts to take over and enslave the other. The victim tribe has only three options; it can arm and defend itself, allowing the dynamic of violence to spread into their land. It can leave the land, allowing the dynamic of violence to spread into their land. Or it can allow the tribe to enslave them, allowing the dynamic of violence to spread into their land.” Personally I’d go with the first option because it’s the only one that can lead to a rejection of the obvious authoritarian nature of the 1st tribe. But the violence is there no matter how you cut it.

  • John Drabble says:

    The Occupy movement was started and has functioned pretty successfully so far as a non-violent movement. The use of violence will destroy this movement from within.

    Consider, early in the OWS action, the youtube video of the New York cop assaulting those young girls with pepperspray. Would that have riled up the public as it did if the girls were throwing rocks at the cops?

  • GnoLogJ says:

    First off, nonviolence is sometimes effective. Not every time. Same goes for violence. There are plenty of times from a historical perspective where nonviolence achieved only just enough reform to shut people up and then as soon as they relaxed things were brought right back to where they were, sometimes even worse than when it started. And there are examples in history where violence achieved a righteous end to a righteous cause. So let’s cut the BS where everyone has to be wholly subscribed to one end of it or the other. This is the point the author is making, which is that you’ve got to have both. The powers that be ignore protests when they can and if there’s no teeth to the movement they just ignore it. The possibility of violence has got to be there. Further, people will get their asses kicked either way. If a protest is effective it will be violently suppressed whether it’s violent or not.

    It’s important to note that this is a big part of why I don’t occupy. I provide financial and logistical support but I cannot be physically present at a protest where I am not allowed to defend myself. I don’t consider self-defense to be violence. But it’s out of respect for the ideas and goals of Occupy that I’m not there because it would be an instinctual response to hit a cop if he was trying to arrest me and I know that would be against what they’re trying to achieve. So my final point is that, given how Occupy wants to remain non-violent at all costs, I see no reason why the more radical side of it shouldn’t splinter off and do it’s own thing. This allows Occupy to do what it does and gain the support of all pacifist activists and would allow the secondary group to enjoy the support of people who are open to intelligent confrontational tactics that might be considered “violent” by people who define any which way.

    If you’re going to truly have diversity of tactics it can’t be done as one amorphous mass when the vast majority are decrying more radical concepts. If they don’t all agree it’s only going to cause major divisions and in-fighting so you might as create a two-pronged approach aiming for roughly the same end by different means. I think that would be truly effective.

  • kbrannonyoung says:

    “I’ve been doing research recently on the tactics police use when they try to infiltrate and destroy movements. One tactic they have used over and over again is to infiltrate liberal circles and label all radicals as violent extremists, or to suggest that radicals are police provocatuers to discredit them. Often, their goal is to join and encapsulate/ contain a movement within a limited and moderate set of goals. Another tactic they have used is to infiltrate radical circles in attempts to provoke an over-reaction against liberal nonviolence, and a premature split.”

    A “premature split”, huh? Sounds like “a participant in Decolonize/Occupy Seattle” just tipped their hand.

    In any case, I’d respect this analysis a lot more if whoever wrote it had the courage to state their name/names.

    Doesn’t matter though. I’m pretty sure I know who it is.

    -Karrsen

    • John Drabble says:

      I have never heard of the police planting provocateurs within political movements to provoke non-violence because it is not in their interest to do so. They do plant provocateurs to provoke violence to discredit movements because it is in their interest to do so.

      You can not change or overthrow this government with violence. They have too many weapons. You can discredit and delegitimize the government through the use of non-violence.

      Think about the incidents this past year when the occupy movement has turned public opinion against the state. It has always been when the police used violent tactics against non-violent protesters. When protesters are violent then the mainstream media is more than happy to ignore our issues, emphasize the violence, and make the movement look as unattractive as possible to the 99% we say we represent.

      Diversity of tactics is bullshit. There are a bunch of kiddies in hoodies looking for cheap thrills who have attached themselves to what, up to now, has been a successful non-violent movement. If violence is so effective in bringing change why aren’t they out in the street every night breaking windows and spray painting slogans? There are enough glass and walls to keep them busy for years. They don’t need to be showing up at GAs and arguing for a diversity of tactics in what, so far, has been a non-violent movement.

      • Boswell says:

        I agree 100% with what John Drabble said. These kids are either counter-intelligence, or plain LACK OF INTELLIGENCE.
        Sorry, but the little make-believe fantasy they have about overthrowing the government isn’t going to happen. Aside from the biggest military on Earth there is also that little issue of the people, myself included, who don’t want our government overthrown. What? do we get the axe in their little unworkable fantasy?
        We need a real movement, not a prolonged tantrum of brats in black. Want diversity of tactics? I got some for you: protests, ballot drives, running candidates, letter writing campaigns, boycotts, and civil disobedience. Now THOSE are a diverse bunch of tactics.
        It’s funny, the same kids saying I have to “respect” their “right” to throw things at the police will be the same kids to get in my face when I say Occupy may want to endorse non-career politicians who run for office and agree with our message. What, elections aren’t a “diverse” a tactic enough? To those kids I say, grow up.
        One thing about these kids I REALLY can’t stand is that they remind me of another group…the use of violence, the lack of respect for the freedom so speech of others, a glorification of bloody revolution, a hatred of the republic and even the black clothing. Indeed, a big chunk of these kids are nothing but FASCISTS.
        I’m so tired of these fascists brats making this movement less and less relevant to the vast majority of Americans. Sorry, we don’t want your political violence…Mussolini might have liked it, but the REAL occupy movement doesn’t.
        It’s high time we thinking, rational people stand up and say that “violence” is not a tactic of diversity, but VOTING is. Some of us in Occupy are going to start working with elections, AND THERE IS NOTHING THESE BRATTY BLACK SHIRTS CAN DO TO STOP US.
        Non-violence, doable goals, reason, logic and common sense. These are the tactics that will win absolute victory for the 99%. So kids, either grow the hell up or get the hell out of our movement.
        -Boswell, organizer of the Occupy Seattle Reasonable Solutions committee
        http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reasonable-Solutions-Occupy-Seattle/272842572761405

  • rhalas says:

    I think it needs to be stated that this issue has been debated in every social movement within modern history; it is not new. I have included a letter from Starhawk to OWS on speaking to exactly that.

    These are my thoughts. What people need is action, success, clarity of message, reaction, and the possibility of meaningful change. These are real needs. I believe we must remember that people will have needs that must be addressed within the movement. They will participate in direct action seeing it as a culmination of their efforts not realizing this is a twenty year fight (and that is just the beginning). We must remind people to fulfill their needs, and not let their angst force their hand into poorly considered actions.

    I believe people become discontented with direct action, especially marches, because there is little immediate outcome. We must remind people that instead of getting more brash when we feel we are not being heard we can get more intelligent, more strategic, more articulate, ect. We can run our governing body better than the government. A friend said to me today as I was talking to her about this issue, “the means of repression have gotten more sophisticated, but our responses to them have not.” I believe this is why people are getting frustrated, not because violence is necessary, or a more effective strategy than non-violent actions.

    We need more carefully planned clearly messaged direct actions. Our issue is creativity; let’s begin dreaming bigger. What would it be like if a high school full of kids walked out? What would it be like if impromptu unions started collectively bargaining as workers walked out? What would it be like if outside of every grocery store in America there was someone holding a sign showing the amount of money that was going to stay in their local economy, and how much would go into the hands of a few distant executives? All these could be taken much further, not violently, but in terms of their message.

    This is a long fight. It will take many years. I am in my twenties and I expect to have grey in my hair when I feel content with the progress we have made. We must remember this, and band together.

    http://www.terraspheres.com/blogs/starhawks-open-letter-to-the-occupy-movement-why-we-need-agreements

  • OccupyMarkD says:

    This whole debate has be framed terribly from the beginning by the original proposer of the non-violence-only proposal. This is the same way debates are framed in the mainstream media — they take a serious political question and grab hold of a meaningless abstraction of the debate and run with it. I agree with the author of this letter, the real question we are trying to answer is, “How is OS going to move forward?”. The answer must be “diversity of tactics” because there is a diversity of people within the Occupy movement and within American society. We need to be able to decide what tactics will best appeal to different folks. I agree with the author that both sides of this debate have been mischaracterized by the other side, and that needs to stop. We are in this together, that’s what solidarity means. We need to look out for each other and stick together, because that is where our strength lies.

    No one is calling for an armed rebellion and no one is calling for a return to normal. Revolutions need not be bloody, as we have seen in the second half of the last century, but they oftentimes are — not because those that want freedom and security use violence but because the police and military do. For now it will suffice to say that OS should use non-violent means of struggle because it is what will best further the movement. That does not mean that the media and politicians will not portray OS as violent, nor does it mean that other people will not portray OS as violent, as long as it suits their agenda to do so. We should not play into that dynamic by giving our opponents and detractors more ammunition. Those that advocate non-violence need to stop portraying the more radical elements of OS as violence-prone and violence-lovers, and the radicals need to stop portraying the non-violence-only folks as ineffective pacifists. When we engage in this type of argument publicly, we needlessly divide ourselves.

    Instead of this endless debate, we need to focus on coming up with concrete issues around which OS should organize. Tactics inherently depend on what message OS is trying to get out. We cannot endorse one blanket set of tactics because that set will not be applicable to all issues. What this debate should teach us is that we need concrete issues to organize around or else we will flounder and get nowhere, like the past couple weeks. We need to raise the needs of the most oppressed in society. We need to raise the needs of workers, unionized and non-unionized. We need to raise the needs of foreclosure victims. We need to raise the needs of students. We need to raise the needs of the homeless. We need to raise the needs of veterans. These are the people we should be reaching out to, rather than the comfortable middle-class who, if they aren’t sympathetic to our cause yet, will be very very difficult to win over. These folks will only come over to our side when we have the majority of folks with us and we have sufficiently discredited the current power structures. We are nowhere near that yet.

    The type of movement that OWS has spawned cannot survive in its current form. We must evolve past the current fetish for leaderlessness (which does not mean we do not have leaders but rather only denies us the ability to democratically elect leaders and hold them accountable), our emphasis on structurelessness (which does not mean we do not have a structure but rather only denies us the ability to democratically choose our own structure that best suits our movement’s needs) and our obsession with consensus (which is the most undemocratic thing there ever has been!). Rather, we need to form United Fronts to fight specific aspects of the broader class war. A United Front is working-class-led organization that democratically elects leadership (who can be recalled at any time) and can bring together different groups to work on issues that they all care about. Within the United Front different groups can debate over politics, strategy, actions, and tactics, and then vote to decide what to do. American social movements, especially in the northwest, make or break it depending on whether they use this organizing structure. OS should adopt it sooner rather than later before this debate stalls us for good, like our opponents want it to.

    • TomH says:

      This is not a needless debate. And it absolutely should be held in public.

      I’ve read every word here more than once and for the life of me I cannot understand what is meant by “diversity of tactics” other than the possibility of violence. Non-violence includes all tactics other than violence. Every other Occupy has committed itself to non-violence. I cannot stand in solidarity with those who will not renounce violence. Violence simply plays into the hands of the power elite. They want us to be violent because they know how to win a violent confrontation. Non-violence confounds them. And even if by some miracle we could somehow overcome them through violence, all we can hope to create is another violent, repressive state. I will support the movement in other cities because they are committed to non-violence, but Occupy Seattle has apparently elected to commit a kind of unprincipled suicide. I will not go down with it.

      I’ve been a part of every major action up to now, but until we re-commit ourselves to non-violence I will not be with you. And I am not the only one: look at how few people are showing up these days.

      • OccupyMarkD says:

        When I say diversity of tactics, I mean rationally choosing our tactics based on the facts on the ground and the political message of a certain action rather than adhering to a dogmatic view of protest that can fit nicely in a box our masters have given to us. I do not believe that there is any situation in the foreseeable future that would call for a violent reaction by Occupy Seattle. I do believe that we should leave all options on the table and only use the ones that make sense. We are arguing the same position, but you are coming from an ideological stance and I am coming from a rational stance (not that they don’t overlap at points). My problem with the proposal is that it gives anyone (since we can’t elect leadership) the ability define what is violent and non-violent and use that to push people out of the movement. Do we use Obama’s definition? The media’s? The cops’? Mine? Yours? It becomes a grey matter all over again in most situations and then this proposal is meaningless and only serves to divide us. Your conjecture that using violence against violence will only perpetuate violence is jus plain wrong. This is called te “master’s tools” argument. It goes like this, “You can’t take down the master’s house with the master’s tools.” Really? What’s different about my master’s tools that makes them his purview alone? It doesn’t matter who’s tools I use to take down his house. I can use my tools, I can use my master’s tools, I can use your tools, and I can use my cousin’s tools. The house will still be taken down. There is nothing magical about the master’s tools that makes them his alone.

        You say this debate is necessary and needs to take place publicly (I presume that means at GA?). Is that why we have been arguing about this for two weeks straight at GA? Is that why all Occupy activity has ground to a halt while we hear the same arguments over and over and nothing gets resolved? Is that why practically all political substance has been stripped from the GA so we can endlessly debate over semantics? Are people becoming less interested in what we’re doing because a few people threw stuff at the police or because we stopped doing things that actually effect them? Maybe instead of this debate we could have saved someone from being evicted from their home the day before Christmas. Maybe instead of this debate we could have held a rally in solidarity with Occupy Bellingham which got evicted. Maybe we could do something that matters t people instead of making unenforcable pronouncements of non-violence. Mark this down as a win for the 1% — they are getting everything they want while we fight over whether or not to put ourselves in the coffin they prepared for us.

        • Dktr_Sus says:

          “Are people becoming less interested in what we’re doing because a few people threw stuff at the police or because we stopped doing things that actually effect them?”

          You are perfectly able to call any action you want. The Occupy Seattle GA voted down the proposal that says all actions will be nonviolent, so you don’t even have those restrictions. Hopefully, you will still be transparent and let people know you don’t intend to maintain nonviolence at your action (albeit most everyone now sees OS as violent, so that may not even be necessary).

          Go for it. You may get all of the ten people who showed up at your last action (10th and Union).

          • John Drabble says:

            “The Occupy Seattle GA voted down the proposal that says all actions will be nonviolent, so you don’t even have those restrictions.”

            Without a clear commitment to non-violence Occupy Seattle is no longer a part of the Occupy Movement. It has destroyed itself from within.

        • TomH says:

          It seems to me that the semantics nit pickers are those who are trying to sell “diversity of tactics” as something other than violence. It’s you guys who are blocking this. I’m perfectly willing to let each individual decide for herself or himself what non-violence means, but I will not attach myself to any group that does not reject violence. Again, every other Occupy has opted for non-violence whether or not it is enforceable. It is a powerful statement. It is a commitment to effective tactics that are morally defensible, tactics that work, and tactics that are supported by the majority of the 99%. The Seattle Police have already demonstrated their penchant for violence. I would assert they want us to be violent because it gives them cover to escalate their own violence. Your stance in favor of violence puts me and my family in greater danger. If I call you out, as I will if I see you behaving violently, I fear that your violence will be turned on me. I cannot stand in solidarity with people I fear. Yes, people are not turning out because of this. I agree that we should be engaged in actions directed at the 1%, rather than this debate, but you scare me. If that’s a victory for the 1%, I put the blame squarely on those who are taking this suicidal stand, preventing OS from thriving the way the movement is thriving in other cities.

      • John Drabble says:

        “Every other Occupy has committed itself to non-violence. ”

        And that is why it has been successful. Occupy Seattle, merely by allowing talk of violence as a tactic, is destroying itself.

    • Dktr_Sus says:

      “When we engage in this type of argument publicly, we needlessly divide ourselves.” …. No, when we engage in this kind of argument publicly, we are inviting THE PEOPLE WHO ARE OCCUPY SEATTLE to join in. Everyone who wants to be part of this movement, IS in this movement – if only behind a computer screen (and even if they are from “the comfortable middle-class”). Transparency is one of the founding agreements (along with nonviolence) of Occupy Wall Street – and Occupy Seattle.

      I suggest that those that want leaders, want to include only ‘certain classes” of people, and feel that they must be able use violence any time, should just start their own movement — these ideas do not reflect anything that Occupy stands for. Yes, Occupy is evolving … but not in that direction.

      • OccupyMarkD says:

        To your first paragraph, I will point you to my response above. To your second paragraph, I wish to explain what “working-class” means. It means anyone who has to work for a living (this includes the middle-class). It does not mean those in society that do not need to work to survive. This is exactly the 99%/1% divide that OWS claims it is about. I hope you aren’t saying to want Warren Buffet and Jamie Dimon at Occupy Seattle’s GA!
        And unfortunately I can’t respond to your quip about leadership because you fail to make an argument, opting rather to hypocritically say I should not be in Occupy Seattle if I want to decide who is in a leadership position. As you said, since I want to be part of Occupy Seattle then I *am* a part of it. I can argue my convictions just as anyone else can, and it is needlessly divisive (like this proposal) to tell me to leave if I don’t like how things are being done. Occupy is evolving after all, who’s to say I can’t try to influence its evolution? Does fetishized leaderlessness trump democracy?

        • Dktr_Sus says:

          No, I did not ask you “to leave” Occupy Seattle. No one can do that. I just thought you might be less frustrated if you put your energy into making/joining a separate organization; this system of occupy (leader-full, consensus driven, horizontal governance, etc.) is pretty alien to many people and requires a lot of personal responsibility … and patience. I actually think you should stay – I think you could learn a lot.

          • John Drabble says:

            I haven’t been able to make most of the GAs so wan’t aware that a commitment to non-violent tactics had been voted down. I have attended most of the actions, and was disturbed at the use of violence at the port action.

            This failure to commit to non-violence has made Occupy Seattle a de-facto, non-member of the occupy movement. It has the name, but is not a positive part of the movement. It just a new venue for the kiddies in hoodies to indulge themselves in their thrill seeking confrontations.

            I’m out of here.

  • John Drabble says:

    Below is an excerpt of an article Geov Parrish wrote for the Seattle Weekly after the WTO protests of 1999.

    http://www.seattleweekly.com/1999-12-08/news/anarchists-go-home/

    “For 25 years, I have considered myself an anarchist. I believe in the power of self-government because it speaks to the best in people, because it is the only practical path to a nonexploitative world, and because mutual aid kicks ass. The direct action that shut down the WTO was the genuine anarchism in action last Tuesday. The glass-breaking and graffiti was, however unwittingly, abetting the state.

    In the face of this attack, there were some heroes. One story I heard was of Peace Action’s Fred Miller, who, along with his daughter, held up a banner to protect the windows of NikeTown against the predations of the anarchists’ hammers. Fred wasn’t protecting NikeTown—or more accurately, their insurance company—he was protecting the integrity of thousands of dissidents’ hard work. Despite the efforts of Fred and the overwhelming majority of protesters who deplored the vandalism, a few thugs carried the day. In the future, in our trainings and preparations for such actions, we will unfortunately have to learn to do more of that. We will have to learn to protect ourselves and our actions from being hijacked by small gangs of cowards who won’t take risks and can’t organize their own revolution, and so find themselves—much like the sectarian left they despise—using other peoples’ work for their purposes.

    It’s bad enough having to confront the awesome power of the police state. That was brought down in nearly full ugly force for the rest of the week not because of the vandalism, which largely hadn’t happened when the first tear gas flew at 6th and Union at 10:05am, but because thousands were nonviolently effective. But the public approved of police tactics—pepper-spraying people on the ground, shooting fleeing protesters in the back with rubber bullets, and denying constitutional rights to freedoms of speech and assembly—thanks to our “anarchist” enemies. That was the true violence of the week, not the shattered glass.

    Let’s be clear. These aren’t anarchists, and they are certainly not interested in building their movement. True anarchists—as with the Seattle General Strike of 1919—work through mutual aid, not through taking their most likely compatriots, some of whom also self-identify as anarchists, and kicking them in the teeth. That’s the state’s job, and the Eugene clique helped out admirably. A few minutes of glass-breaking was far more effective than months of police infiltration would have been—sad, but true. Now, the question is: How do we deal with it in the future?

    Possibly the most significant mass action I’ll ever see was a lot less effective in its global message than it could have been thanks to a few dozen people. The revolution we are trying to create didn’t and doesn’t need these parasites. It’s not the property destruction we resent—it’s the deliberate sabotage of our work. To John Zerzan, Brenton Gicker, all you other little punks in the Eugene clique, and their cohorts, fuck you. Fuck everything you stand for. And stay the fuck away from our revolution.”