Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For Your Reading Pleasure... Well.

Below are linked Peter Gelderloos' "How Nonviolence Protects the State" (2007) and an excerpt from Starhawk's "Webs of Power, Notes on the Global Uprising" (2001).

Gelderloos has little use for nonviolence purists and mindless idolators of Gandhi and King. I don't necessarily agree with his whole critique, but I do agree that we have to think beyond the ways and means of the past and we do well to respect the concept of diversity when considering strategies and tactics for change. And I agree that Nonviolence is often used as a weapon by the State to disable effective resistance campaigns.

Starhawk has been in the trenches on behalf of many movements for far longer than I have, and her perspective tends to be illuminating. It's hard to believe that the chapter excerpt was written more than a decade ago. So little seems to have changed. Yet having heard her speak recently during the InterOccupy conference calls, I'm not at all sure she is still as open and as charitable toward diversity of tactics now as she was then.

What both authors recognize -- and I think it is critically important -- is that we can't keep repeating the methodology of previous eras and expect to achieve the results we seek, whatever they may be.

We have to find something appropriate to our needs now.

I call the way forward a synthesis, and I look for it in the Space Between, which was part of what I was getting at with the illustration and the musical selection in the previous post. I separated the red and the black sections of the illustration (it is the Anarcho-syndicalist/communist flag) with a narrow white bar to represent the Space Between; the nature of Anarcho-syndicalism, however, is synthesis. "Argy-bargy" is old Brit slang (I'm not even sure they use it any more) for intense debate and discussion, a way to get to that Space Between and synthesis, if it can be found at all.

"How Nonviolence Protects the State"
by Peter Gelderloos (Scribd)

"Webs of Power" by Starhawk (excerpt) (pdf)

And then, for sheer... uh... drama, some notes from the February 18, 2012 New York City General Assembly regarding an... incident.

Also, Steve, to be clear, Sage showed up to this General Assembly meeting as we were finishing the breakout discussions on anti-oppression. He immediately demanded to speak, out of process. In order to smooth things over, the Facilitation team gave him 2 minutes to speak about the issue. Instead, he continued yelling at everyone. So one Facilitator, Justin, went over to him calmly to try to deescalate the issue. When he was a few feet away, Sage stood up, took 2 running steps, and head-butted the facilitator in the chest, knocking him to the ground.

After the ensuing confusion and shouting by the whole assembly, the group decided that rather than going on with the original agenda. We needed to deal right then with the violence that had again happened in our midst (again–not the first time even that WEEK that Sage had been involved in violence during a meeting). So that’s when an emergency proposal was brought to deny Sage participation in OWS services and meetings, to create a safe space for all of us.

The meeting then moved to Liberty Square to continue the proposal process on the matter. Since Justin was understandably upset by being assaulted, I stepped up from minutes-taker to facilitator. We gave Sage the same opportunity to speak as everyone else, during clarifying questions, concerns, friendly amendments, as a standaside, and as a block. Some people didn’t want him to speak, and it wasn’t a trial but as a member of the assembly, he had the right to speak, and he did.

Just trying to fill in a little more information that doesn’t appear in this minutes summary!

Postscript, just as the GA was ending, another member of the community punched the LibertySqGA live-tweeter in the face.

we’ve created a monster. by allowing sage special leeway by the lack of enforcing meeting protocol, he has come to believe that he has special permission to speak out of turn during meetings, disrupt meetings and generally make a nuisance of himself. It seems he gets great pleasure out of the attention these disruptions cause. Many many times I have seen this take place: sage speaking out of process, many points of process raised, facilitators say, just let him speak, and then he speaks on and on. This has happened at least 500 times. It’s now habitual.
It seems a new habit is forming due to lack of accountability (aka consequences) Now, he is finding out that he can assault people physically too and get away with it. There have been two so far in just one week. There will be more and they will likely increase in intensity each time.

It is up to the community to teach him that there are consequences to violent behavior. Ostracizing him from group activities is the obvious choice. I am now avoiding general assembly because of this lack of response by the community. And to all of you that blocked eliminating Sage from OWS activities for a month. Y’all are co-dependent. Dude is violent.

Ps. Jeff, who punched Dicey in the face after Dicey stood in his face daring him to punch him, has voluntarily removed himself from the GA and other OWS functions. De-escalation told me. What he did also has consequences. How he is facing them is an example of how someone who majorly fucked up ought to be accountable. Sage, in contrast, since these two assaults, is not humbled, is not sorry, shows no sign of realizing that what he did is fucked up. Instead, he continues to run his mouth all up and down the block. He shows no remorse. Instead, he is trying to justify his actions, blaming the people he attacked for making him “upset”

This is bullshit. If this community can’t live up to it’s own principle of non-violence by tolerating violence within our meetings, it’s very base is hypocritical. This hypocrisy will destroy us if we dont destroy it first

Sage has been an OWS character essentially since the beginning. I was going to post a video of him in action but thought better of it. As for the other incident at that GA, I have no knowledge... These people are what I call Crazy-makers. It's an identity thing with them. The openness of OWS means they can't be shunted into some compartment and ignored. On the other hand, it is very easy for Crazy-makers to take control; I've seen it happen too many times to count both in and out of the Occupy context.

Dealing with Crazy-makers is just one of the consistent requirements of Occupy activism.


  1. I've read about half of Gelderloos' book and all of the excerpt by Starhawk. By providing links to both pieces, you provided an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast. Gelderloos' approach seems to be more along the lines of classical Marxism (class consciousness and all that kind of thing) while Starhawk's approach is more contemporary. I don't think what worked in the past necessarily works now. There is a good deal of merit in carefully considering Starhawk's approach to creating change while keeping in mind the usefulness of Gelderloos' analysis when formulating a response to classic street protests. I don't think the two approaches have a great deal in common - they speak to different groups of people.

  2. [Still don't know why your comments wind up in the Detention Folder. Google/Blogger is useless for an explanation. Usually after I free comments from detention a time or two, the Auto-filters calm down. Sorry it took so long.]

    I agree, Gelderloos and Starhawk are approaching the topic from different bases, and their general appeal is to different audiences.

    Gelderloos' premise that nonviolence as it is mythologized and promoted these days protects the state is a key insight that some nonviolence advocates don't seem to recognize -- though many do. "Protecting the state" is their actual intent in the promotion of nonviolence (or pacifism, as it is often referred to). They don't want a Revolution, nor in some cases do they want any substantive or upsetting change in the status quo.

    Starhawk, on the other hand, is a nonviolence advocate who DOES want substantive change in the way things are, indeed, she's quite a Revolutionary thinker, and she's been hammering away at the castle gates for many a long year, sometimes feeling exhausted at the futility of it all. But she doesn't give up. On the other hand, she doesn't pretend that her way is the only way or that her way is necessarily more effective in all circumstances. And she is not ordinarily one to protect the State.

    Her site