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On Winning Hearts and Minds


Glick

A

year ago, on April 17th, 2000, I wrote a Future Hope column which likened both

the forms of action and the relative organizational coherence of the April 16th

actions in D.C. against the IMF/World Bank to a regular army without violent

weapons, a "non-violent army." After being in the middle of the April 20 (and

A21 and A22) Day(s) of Direct Action against the FTAA in Quebec City, I think

some questions must be raised and addressed as to if that description is still

accurate, and the political implications.

Make

no mistake about it: the battle we are waging against the global capitalist

order is a political battle, first and foremost, far and away. It is not a

military battle because if it were we’d be snuffed out in a New York minute.

It’s not an economic battle because, even with all of our coops and alternative

economic institutions, as important as they are, our "economy" will never just

grow and grow to the point at which the corporate economy is supplanted; it’s

not in the cards. Our primary work, the touchstone of all of our discussions

concerning tactics, must be about winning the hearts and minds of literally tens

of millions of North Americans. It is only that broad base of support, out of

which can grow a bigger and bigger movement of organizers and activists, which

will make the changes we seek possible.

Based

upon my experiences in Quebec City, as well as in D.C., Philadelphia and Los

Angeles last year, I don’t think all of those involved in this righteous

struggle share the view that it is primarily political, that we need to develop

and adjust tactics with the hearts and minds of those tens of millions in the

forefront of our thinking. I’m referring specifically to many-not all, but many,

it seems-of those who are commonly seen as making up the Black Bloc.

Don’t

get me wrong. I view the Black Bloc and individual members I know as friends and

allies. As I have gotten to know some of them individually over the past year, I

have come to respect their commitment, their courage, their willingness to be on

the front lines in the confrontations with the police and the military. I

cheered on April 20th in Quebec City when young people (all young men, from what

I observed), often dressed in black and wearing gas masks and insulated gloves,

repeatedly pounced on the tear gas canister shells shot by the police and hurled

or kicked them back from whence they came. When one young person dressed in

black, standing 10 feet from me, was hit directly by a canister and knocked in

great pain to the ground, so badly hurt that he had to be carried away by

others, the angry language I used would not have made my parents proud.

Yet I

saw other things involving Black Bloc members.

After

our huge march arrived at the Wall of Shame close to the FTAA meeting site, and

after portions of the fence were torn down and tear gas began to be used, I

watched as young men on the front lines threw snowballs, bottles, sticks and

stones at heavily padded police guarding the now-open area. As the battle went

on, it turned uglier, and not just on the police side. Our front-line warriors

picked up foot square paving stones, broke them in half and threw these chunks

at the cops. I saw none do any observable damage; the cops’ clear plastic

shields, and their helmets and padding, seemed to frustrate any direct hits. But

what if there had been direct hits?

Early

the following morning, during a temporary lull in the battle for control of the

hilltop plaza close to the FTAA meeting site, I checked out the situation. I

took a picture of the area where the paving stones had been picked up and

broken. As I did so a man who talked and looked as if he were a local Quebec

City resident said to me, "Those stones could have badly hurt one of the police,

and what if he were a father?" I agreed with him, while also commenting on the

violence of the FTAA.

Or

what about this: toward the end of the afternoon, I watched as a young man from

within our ranks, without gas mask, bandana or any other protection,

courageously moved within ten feet of the police lines at one point, saying

something to them, then turned to walk back to where hundreds of people were

sitting. Before he got back he was hit by a large stone with a glancing blow to

the side of the head. The stone was thrown at the police by one of us, someone

who had little common sense and a not very accurate arm. The young man who was

hit staggered for a few yards, then sank to the ground. He had to be helped away

by others.

And

others have told me about seeing the use of molotov cocktails by those from

within our ranks. Whether these were Black Bloc’ers or agent provocateurs is

unknown.

Which

brings us back to the "hearts and minds" issue.

It

may be that individual Black Bloc’ers wouldn’t have been bothered if serious

injury had been done to one of the cops as a result of their actions. I don’t

think that is a good thing, but I can at least understand it. But they should

care if the tactics they use are directly responsible for injury to those of us

who are also out there putting our bodies on the line, and they should care

about the effect of their tactics on those broad masses of working-class people

who know little about either the FTAA or us and who, unfortunately, rely on the

corporate media for their information. And although we don’t control that media,

we can have some influence over how and what they report depending upon what

tactics we use.

I can

just hear what some would say in response: pacifism and non-violence aren’t

militant enough. We can’t trust the media. We need to kick ass, let them know of

our anger, provide an example to oppressed people of willingness to fight the

agents of repression.

I

think of something Dave Dellinger once said about non-violence. He was referring

to the Cuban Revolution, and he described it as "essentially non-violent," even

though Fidel, Che and his compatriots were armed and attacked the military

forces of the Batista dictatorship. Dave explained this by talking about how,

after a battle, the Cuban revolutionaries would take care of the wounded Batista

soldiers, bandage up their wounds, encourage them to support the revolutionary

cause. Although armed, they understood that their struggle was primarily

political, and they did not have a macho, militaristic mindset.

Che

Guevera himself, according to an article by Dellinger in a recent issue of

Toward Freedom, is quoted as saying that in the U.S., "the most heavily armed

nation in the world. . . the only way to succeed was through nonviolent

protests, including civil disobedience."

And

look at the Zapatistas! This is a present-day example of a movement that

understands clearly the limits of violence and use of arms, that comprehends at

the core of their being the overwhelmingly political essence of their struggle

and acts accordingly.

But

we don’t have to look beyond our shores for examples of militant alternatives to

Black Bloc tactics. All we have to do is look at what was really the most

impressive and politically powerful-if it could get through the media spin of

"violent protests"-aspect of the FTAA battles this past weekend: the heroic,

unarmed, non-violent persistence of the overwhelming majority of the direct

actionist

For

upwards of four hours on A20 we held onto significant portions of the Boulevard

Rene Levesque hilltop plaza area. Despite repeated use of tear gas, and though

we often had to retreat, thousands of us kept coming back. We kept moving closer

and closer to police lines, using the weapons of non-violent mobility, music,

drumming, frisbee-playing, to reclaim, little by little, lost ground. One police

line area, near Avenue Turnbull, was essentially taken by us through the use of

these tactics. It was at this point, around 6 P.M., that the police must have

decided that more was needed from their side, and they unleashed a massive

barrage of tear gas while advancing with dogs to force us off the plaza and down

into the side streets.

How

did we accomplish this limited, tactical victory of holding at least some of the

plaza all afternoon?

  1. We

    had massive numbers, in the many thousands, possibly as many as 20,000 people

    at the height of the action.

  2. Many of those thousands were organized into affinity groups that had gone

    through training in non-violent action.

  3. There were people willing and prepared to risk themselves by immediately

    picking up the tear gas canisters and throwing them away from our ranks,

    minimizing the tear gas effects. And there were people willing to go up to the

    front and tear down the fence, risking arrest or police attacks.

  4. There were medics available to help with injuries, and there was a spirit of

    cooperation and mutual support within our ranks when someone was injured.

  5. There was extensive media presence with lots of cameras.

  6. We

    had drummers, whistlers, musicians, chants, radical cheerleaders, dancers,

    frisbee players and flags and banners to keep our spirits up.

None

of these elements involved violence against people.

We

need to look a little more deeply into this question of non-violence as it

applies to our movement against global capitalism.

As I

have observed and experienced it, non-violence can mean one of several things:

It

can be a lifestyle, a conscious effort to, as much as humanly possible, make

one’s day-to-day thoughts, actions and living patterns do no damage, physical,

emotional or spiritual, to any living thing. This means everything from refusing

to engage in physical fighting, to serious reflection on racism, sexism,

heterosexism, class privilege and other forms of domination/oppression, to

vegetarianism and veganism. The aim is to practice what we preach, in a

wholistic way, to be a love-and-life-centered person.

It

can have to do mainly with the tactics used in campaigns and movements for

social change, as referred to above.

Or it

can be seen as a strategy for revolutionary change, THE way that, over time, we

will overcome and replace an unjust and oppressive social order. Alternative

economic institutions, boycotts, strikes, non-violent direct action are the main

ways this would happen.

It is

important that we separate out these different aspects of what people mean when

they say "non-violence." It is important because we need clarity when we are

discussing the question at hand, how to win the hearts and minds of millions.

Personally, I don’t see "non-violence," non-violence alone, as a potentially

winning strategy. There is much more that we have to be about, including the

formation of an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, one which runs

independent candidates and is grounded in and accountable to grassroots,

broadly-based social movements. On the other hand, I do believe that we should

all be striving to become as non-violent as possible in the way we live our

personal lives, and I believe that, in the United States context, creative,

militant, mobile, non-violent direct action is the appropriate set of tactics we

should be using in situations like A20.

What

might this have meant in Quebec City? What if, in advance, there had been an

agreement that only those types of tactics would have been acceptable? What

might have happened?

The

fence would have been torn down. Non-violence, to me, does not foreclose a

limited amount of focused property destruction. Some property should not exist

or should not be used in the ways it is.

In

response to the police use of tear gas, instead of throwing increasingly

dangerous projectiles at them, we would have done what we did later in the

afternoon: throw the tear gas back, hold our ground as much as possible, come

back from the tear gas attacks, use creative tactics like music and dancing to

"calm the savage beasts" in their Darth Vader uniforms, and get up close to

police lines. We would have talked to the cops-and been overheard by the many

reporters and cameramen swarming all around-about why we were there, how they

also stood to gain from our efforts to prevent the destruction of our

environment and to end poverty and starvation. If those would have worked, at

some point we might have begun moving in an organized way to attempt to push

through those lines, determining the best place to do so based upon the

responses we were getting from the other side. If, for example, one of the

police smiled at us, or indicated in some other way a sympathy for what we were

saying, that would probably be the place where we would make our first effort to

deliberately break through.

Almost certainly, once we did this, or before things got to this point, those

higher up in the police would react. They might well react aggressively, either

arresting or beating us. They might use tear gas in massive quantities, although

they would be somewhat constrained by the mass media being so close. Indeed,

they would probably have difficulty deciding what to do. Whatever they did, they

would be seen as the "bad guys." More than likely, a good bit of the media spin

would be not about "violent protests" but, instead, "violent cops."

Throwing dangerous stones, glass and sand-filled bottles, molotov cocktails,

using sling shots-these are tactics our enemy welcomes. Indeed, it is an

established fact that historically, agent provocateurs have infiltrated

movements like ours and done whatever they could to get the rest of us to use

violent tactics. This allows them to more easily obscure our message, come

across as anti-violence themselves.

Disciplined, militant, creative, non-violent tactics, in contrast, make it much

more likely that our basic message will not be as distorted. We will gain more

sympathy from neutral observers who will want to learn more as they see us being

willing to face tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, plastic bullets, arrests,

beatings, dogs, horses or whatever else the rulers decide to use. Less militant

and partial allies will be emboldened to speak up and take stronger action

themselves.

What

does this mean as far as our relations with the groups/individuals who make up

or relate to the Black Bloc?

We

need to separate our personal friendships with individuals within this sector of

our movement from our strategic and tactical views of what is necessary if we

are to be ultimately effective in our objectives. Families have internal

differences, even fights, and they still stay together. They work out

arrangements.

But

we do need more conscious back-and-forth over these questions:

  • How

    can we convince tens of millions of people of the justice of our cause?

     

  • How

    can we integrate growing numbers of those tens of millions into our

    organizations and actions?

     

  • How

    can we build upon our tactical experiences since Seattle and make adjustments?

     

  • Is

    mimicking the tactics of the U.S. military and police consistent with the

    goals we have, the new society we are striving to bring into being?

     

  • How

    should those of us who believe that, yes, a "non-violent army" is what we need

    get ourselves connected so that our views can be put out more broadly within

    the overall movement?

     

  • How

    should we relate to the Black Bloc?

Quebec City was a victory for our movement. It could have been a bigger victory,

but it was a victory. Bush, Cretien, Fox and their ilk were on the defensive

because of the hard work of thousands of people and the depth of support for our

basic message. But this was only one battle in an on-going war. Before the next

battle, let’s check ourselves out. The need is urgent.

 

 Ted

Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics

Network (www.ippn.org)

and author of Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society. He can be

reached at

[email protected] or P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.

 

 

 

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