Well folks, the party’s over, and for many it is a time of reflection. While many nurse olympic spirit hangovers, and business’s add up the books to see if they made enough to get them through the projected and inevitable burst of the olympic economic bubble, those who chose to protest instead of party also have much to reflect upon. The activist community is abuzz with heated debates over what worked and what didn’t in the aftermath of sought after media attention. With that in mind lets review the more controversial tactics, in order to build a better understanding of the debate.
The day of the opening ceremonies thousands of people flooded the Vancouver downtown core, to noisily -but peacefully- protest the olympics. Various activist groups and individuals with diverse causes ranging from homelessness, the environment, native land claims, and animal rights to concerns over imminent police state and soaring public debt, found themselves unified in solidarity under the anti-olympic banner, to take advantage of the world wide media spotlight and make their causes known. While the demonstration was widely reported in the media, it was soon overshadowed by the events that took place the following day. Early the next morning a different kind of action was taking shape. A group of around 400 people gathered for ‘Heart Attack 2010’ a planned demonstration with the stated goal of blocking the Olympic traffic going to Whistler at the Intersection of Denman and Georgia. Roughly a third of the protesters were militantly dressed in all black with their faces covered. ‘The Black Bloc’ led the march waving black flags and Anarchy symbols and were flanked by colorful musicians and a couple hundred anti-olympic protesters, most of these, it is safe to say, were un-aware and unwitting cohorts of the planned destruction that lie ahead, although it was advertised on many olympic resistance websites that “ the demonstration would respect a diversity of tactics and aimed to disturb business as unusual on the first day of the olympics”.
One of these websites belonging to the APC “anti poverty committee” who flew their banner proudly in solidarity with the Black bloc, until balaclava clad youth started dragging newspaper boxes into intersections to block traffic, at which point the banner flipped around to show only the back black side, and as the destruction increased to smashing newspaper boxes through windows the banner disappeared completely.
There is no question now that the term ‘diversity of tactics’ meant to those in the know, that specific targets would be attacked. This tactic is commonly called “violent direct action” though many anarchists believe that it should not be classified as violent because “violence” as per Wiki definition “is the expression of physical or verbal force against self or other”. One supporter summed up this sentiment nicely by stating “windows and buildings don’t have feelings but people do”. In fact the Black bloc maintains that the only actual violence in this event perpetrated against human beings was done so at the hands of the police, and that the blood soaked history of “The Hudson’s Bay Company”, one of the main targets, far outweighs the destruction caused against them. The important debate, as this writer sees it, is not in definitions or whether or not the attacks were justified, because anyone who understands the history of genocide and abuse suffered by the natives, due to the “The Hudsons Bay” company, would have a hard time arguing that this small scale destruction is not indeed justified, but the question that begs is rather, in our heavily media centered culture is this tactic an effective tool in the resistance toolkit?
Granted, it definitely got world wide attention, so if its quantity they’re after then I’d say they hit the mark, but what about quality? Im willing to bet that all the finer details of the message the ‘Black bloc’ had to share with the world was lost to the masses, and fell on deaf ears of a huge demographic; the baby boomer generation who were guided by the MSM ‘main stream media’ into interpreting what they saw on T.V. as a few spoiled kids dressed in black, crashing the party in a frenzy of chaos and violence and randomly smashing stuff.
The backlash of the MSM and the general public, not to mention much of the activist community themselves, has been fierce. I personally witnessed an angry bystander being interviewed beside the broken Bay window saying “ I think they should all be rounded up and thrown in camps!” It is sentiments just like this that has the activist community scrambling to distance themselves from the destructive stunts that took place. Many activists are keenly aware that in this post 9/11 world, the definition of terrorism is being continuously broadened, eroding the rights of free speech and assembly in its wake, and threatening to ultimately envelop the entire activist community, if left unchallenged. Of course this encroachment is challenged diligently and relentlessly through many avenues; protests, blockades, boycotts, culture jamming, alternative media, organized resistance and non-cooperation, even by individuals getting in the face of elite scumbags and calling them out on camera for all of you tube to see. This is the thorn in the side of the federal government er.. I mean corporate sellouts, and indeed the ruling oppressors worldwide, and what better way to silence the whole bunch, than by using the example of a few “dangerous radicals” to clamp down on the rest, ironically in the interest of public safety. Anarchists smashing windows, is ultimately a victory for the police state because, In the eyes of the general public it validates the need for massive police budgets, and more cops on the street, and more cameras, and stricter policies, “I mean, there’s dangerous violent radicals out there, we need more protection!” righhht, just like the world needs more bombs to keep the peace. It plays right into the police state trap... Which leads us to the subject of agent provocateurism.
Most of the readers will be aware of the example from Montebello, Quebec where members of the police were dressed in the unofficial uniform of the anarchist, black on black, with black bandanas, these officers were pretending to be demonstrators threatening with rocks in their hands in an obvious attempt to incite violence at the peaceful demonstration, until they were exposed and isolated by peaceful protesters and the cops pulled them back into police lines. Leading up to the olympics there was much speculation among activists that these same tactics would be employed during the planned anti-olympic demonstrations. Impossible to tell at this point if that was the case here among the Black Bloc, although personally witnessing the size and age of the majority of masked perpetrators it seems unlikely. Im not saying that the Black bloc movement could not have been unknowingly infiltrated, militarized and radicalized at some point, that may very well be the case, but regardless the groundwork has been laid, and they may not need agent provocateurs to actually do the dirty work anymore, as long as they get the results they need. One question we should ask the police is, why did it take them so long to get the riot-cops there? I estimate 25 minutes at least, it took them, from the first newspaper boxes being tipped and dragged into the street in the lower east side, they could have been well on top of the perpetrators before they hit Georgia and Granville where all the corporate targets are. Instead they stayed back, and they kept angry bystanders back as well who wanted to stop the offenders, not until all the damage was done and the crowd had moved to peaceably block the highway did the riot-cops show up. At that point the riot cops used a unusual and menacing tactic of making lines between groups of people and trying to split them up, which led to pushing and shoving, instigated by the police first, as they drew police lines between crowds and advanced toward people, media and protestors alike, shoving them in all directions, eventually leading to violent clashes and arrests. The likely answer as to why the police would stand back until the damage was done is because they wanted to make sure that the protesters were seen as the bad guys and they were seen as the good guys on the evening news. Which brings me back to my original question and conclusion. “In this day and age of mass media and public relations campaigns,Is this tactic of “violent” direct action an effective tool in the resistance toolkit?”
Assuming that all forms of resistance to tyranny ultimately share the common goals of freedom and peace, and even accepting the argument that some forms of violence used defensively may be appropriate, necessary and unavoidable in the never ending war of the lower class to redistribute the unfair balance of power, but if you really want to organize a massive rebellion one that has any chance of succeeding, history shows, you are going to need the hearts and the minds of the people behind you. Otherwise who is to care as they start branding activists as terrorists and imprisoning them for simply standing up for truth and justice, in the face of a totally corrupted system? We need all the support we can get. So I say, “screw breaking stuff, I wanna keep my peeps outta camps!” The Black bloc may think they won that battle, but they are losing the war this way.
By Terri Lynn