do we evaluate movement tactics and particularly property-damaging or truly
aggressive or violent tactics?
comes from a religious, philosophical stance and says violence or even property
damage is a bad personal choice that brooks no exceptions. Many pacifists-for
example, Dave Dellinger–argue publicly on behalf of political nonviolence using
evidence, values, and experience of the sorts we’ll address below. They respect
and interact positively with those holding different opinions. There are some
other pacifists, however, who don’t primarily use evidence, logic, and
experience to argue for nonviolence, but instead assert that to reject
nonviolence is immoral. Their morality/religion trumps political debate.
adherents of a political view assert that all other actors must agree or be
irrelevant, it is often called sectarianism. Agree with me or you are a
political infidel. In philosophy or religion similar rigidity is often called
fundamentalism. Agree with me or you are a moral infidel. Here’s the hard part:
When a pacifist says that everyone must be pacifist because all other options
are immoral, it is fundamentalism. Lifestyle, philosophical, or religious
pacifists have every right to argue that the movement should always be
nonviolent, of course. But if they do it by proclaiming greater morality they
can’t expect to be taken seriously–and the same goes for those who assert the
limits of nonviolence from atop a high moral horse. So we are back where we
started. What’s characterizes obstruction, property damage, or aggressive or
violent options, and how might folks reasonably argue their preferences?
any tactic we can usefully ask:
are its effects on those who utilize it
are its effects on those it seeks to pressure
are its effects on the those protestors wish to organize, and
are its effects on enduring movement organization and culture?
side claims that tactics "exceeding" nonviolence tend to be good in
that they delegitimate authority, reduce tendencies to obedience, uproot
accomodationist habits and culture, inspire participation among working people
and minorities, graphically pinpoint protestor’s anger, promote increased media
coverage that communicates the movement message more widely, and also raise high
social costs for elites, pressuring them to relent.
other side claims that tactics "exceeding" nonviolence tend to be bad
in that they help authority rationalize its lack of legitimacy, increase
tendencies to thoughtless individualism, amorality, and paranoia, put off
unorganized working people and minorities (not to mention those unable to
participate in violent settings), curtail open discussion and democratic
decision-making, obscure the focus of protestor’s anger, distort media coverage
disrupting communication to broader audiences, and also give elites means to
change the rules of engagement to their advantage.
point by point contrast highlights the complexity of judging tactics. Is having
teach-ins, marching, rallying, doing civil disobedience, obstructing large
numbers of people, or destroying draft card files, a missile nose cone, a
war-making facility, or targeted windows, or trespassing, rioting, resisting
arrest, or even escalating to pro-active aggression against police, scabs, or
other sectors, a good choice? To know, we have to decide which claims are true
and which false, and how we regard the overall tally.
why do we have to consider each case on its own merits? Why can’t we have an
across-the-board always binding judgment? In some situations aggressive tactics
yield all the positive affects their advocates expect. Yet in other situations
aggressive tactics fail to deliver any potential benefits. Likewise, in some
situations aggressive tactics yield all the debits their critics anticipate. Yet
other times aggressive tactics minimize or even eliminate the debits. Thus there
are no universal rules about specific tactics and the best we can do is assess
each tactic in each situation, seeking to maximize potential benefits and
minimize potential ills.
example, proponents and critics of aggressive tactics need to pay very special
and priority attention to not providing authorities a rationalization to obscure
the government’s wrong-doing. Proponents and critics must be sympathetic to
those disagreeing with them and work hard to increase democratic participation
and reduce tendencies to anti-social individualism, paranoia, or passivity. They
must try to find ways to increase possibilities of wide participation and open
discussion and decision-making, and particularly to prevent their tactics from
alienating sought-after constituencies. They must put a high onus of evidence on
themselves on behalf of avoiding adventurism or endangering others or otherwise
weakening the balance of power between the movement and elites, whether by
action or inaction. They must raise social costs today consistently with being
able to do better tomorrow. It is also important to undertake or refrain from
actions in ways that don’t fracture the movement and that don’t reduce sympathy
for the movement or obscure its message among constituencies it seeks to reach.
And both advocates and opponents of any particular tactic must avoid pressuring
movement participants into hostile stances toward one another, rather than
battling only opposed elites.
non-nonviolent tactics by disdaining participation and democracy or by
wildly imagining non-existent conditions looks like macho play-acting rather
than seriously seeking maximal impact. Opposing non-nonviolent tactics by
equating minuscule disruption or destruction with the unimaginably inhumane and
catastrophic violence of elites or otherwise worsening movement communication
looks like fundamentalism rather than seriously seeking maximal positive impact.
the upside, when groups who either advocate or oppose aggressive tactics pay
serious attention to strategic concerns so that others are aware of their
motives, logic, and attentiveness, and of how they take into account the views
and agendas of their protest partners, then while folks may still sharply
disagree about choices, the dialog can be one of respect and substantive debate.
we can all ratify that respect and substantive debate are worthy goals. Then
doesn’t it also follow that having protest norms that facilitate opposed groups
communicating usefully is much better than having protest norms which pit
opposed groups against one another in ideological death matches? "Different
strokes for different folks" is a good slogan, as long as we add that they
need to also pursue mutual concern, understanding, and empathy.