Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Fall-Out From the Occupy "Nonviolence Debate"

Nathan Schneider has posted a heart-breaking interview with two of the people Chris Hedges smeared in his outrageous polemic against the "cancer" in Occupy (he has since revised his characterization of those who favor diversity of tactics from "cancer" to "parasites." He keeps digging this hole and I don't know why.)

I took the picture above at the first "public" event for the local Occupy. At the time, I was only vaguely conscious of the anarchist roots of the Occupy Movement, and it was all still very much an abstraction to me.

But when I met this woman and talked to her briefly and took her picture, it occurred to me that I was conditioned to believe certain things about anarchists and anarchism that simply weren't true. I had pretty much the same images of Black Bloc violence in my mind when I heard the word "anarchist" that many people do. I knew some anarchists from my work in the theater, and never saw them as particularly violent people, but who knew what they might do in another context??? Not I. Some, I decided, were simply unpleasant people, regardless of any affiliation or ideology they might espouse.

I was brought up short when I met the young lady above (sorry, I don't remember her name!) and several other anarchists associated with the local Occupy. They were some of the kindest, most open and dedicated people I think I have ever met or worked with. Even when things got very tense, as they did from time to time, I was struck by how sincere and deeply committed practically all of the self-identified anarchists were, and by how much they really cared about the well-being of others.

I've been writing rather enthusiastically about anarchists and anarchism, and I've been fiercely defending them, ever since.

Now, possibly too late to repair the damage done by Chris Hedges and others in their zeal to purge the Movement of the anarchist taint, Nathan Schneider posts an interview he conducted with two of the diversity of tactics advocates at Occupy Wall Street, women who have been with OWS since virtually the beginning, but who are now being harassed and told to get out of "someone else's" movement -- which they are said to be ruining.

The real pain and the anger they feel comes through loud and clear in the interview. As does their frustration at the continuing focus on incidental acts that barely register on the "violence" scale.

From the interview:

Suzahn: You know what I’d like to see that would be constructive? Some actual internal anti-oppression work, rather than this false conversation about violence within the movement. Because, when you think about it, we have never had an action that was more militant than taking the streets.

Sparrow: No.

Suzahn: Anything that people perceive as violent has been an individual’s actions, and we don’t all have to take responsibility for anything individuals do, ever. It has been so rare. On the other hand, I spent the first three months of the occupation talking to other female-assigned people who have been so hurt and have left the movement because of patriarchy and—and racism, I might add, and national privilege. All of those three things, especially in combination. People have left the movement because of that, and their voices are not being heard, and that is violence. For me, it would be constructive if we actually talked about the violence that does exist, and is happening and has happened and has actually hurt people and disenfranchised people, and hurt the movement because we lose those voices. That might be a constructive thing to start doing. I’d be willing to have that debate.

A cri de coeur to say the least. There are so many layers and levels of real systemic violence in our society that the continuing focus on the incidental acts of individuals who have thrown things or broken windows strikes me as absurd, and I've said so more than once -- not that it's changed any minds.

The good thing is that not everyone is so rigid in their thinking. Minds have been changed through the kinds of personal experiences I've had, and new forms of solidarity are being cobbled together.

Because of that, I remain an eternal optimist.

The fall out remains, however, and it is troubling...


  1. I just started reading "Anarchism and other essays." Emma Goldman's story is fascinating. I started to read "Mutual Aid" by Kropotikin but he kind of anthropomorphized animals and assigned them human like feelings. I understand what he was doing but still found it weird.
    I'm still trying to understand exactly what "anarchism" is in real terms. I understand a lack of government but beyond that I don't get it. I really want to understand.

  2. Kropotkin can be a challenge! "Mutual Aid" is a sharp analysis and counter to the prevailing wisdom regarding the Darwininan principles, but I think it requires a certain frame of mind to appreciate it fully (I confess, I haven't got through the whole thing.)

    Try "The Conquest of Bread" by Kropotkin.

    Libcom.org has a wealth of material, much of it newer than a century ago, too. Just plunge in!

    I'm reluctant to intellectualize anarchism too much, though. Anarchists do it to themselves sometimes, but if you can get to know some self-identified anarchists and work with them on projects, it's often much easier to comprehend what it's all about. You'll see for yourself. There may be some things you resist or reject about the experience, there may be many things you find kind of wonderful and amazing.

    The trick -- at least for me -- is to let go of conditioning and beliefs about anarchism and anarchists.

  3. "The Conquest of Bread" is in my reading Que. I did follow his arguments regarding Darwin. That was a great take I thought. I think I've surrendered most of my prejudgement of what I thought anarchism was at this point. I'll follow the libcom link and see what they have to offer. I'm just in search of better ideas than what we are currently living with.

  4. It can be so hard for some people to let go of their prejudices and preconceptions of just about anything, so I'm curious about how people do it.

    I know for me, personal contact has been the key.

    Infoshop.org and Crimethinc.com are two other sources you might want to check out.

  5. I bought a copy of Peter Marshall's "Demanding the Impossible: a History of Anarchism" and unfortunately have to caution folks not to buy the 2008 edition published by PM Press. The reason? The text is 8 point and quoted sections are 6 point. Some text is blurry and some lines on some pages are a larger point size. Some entire pages are blurry. I have 20-20 corrected vision, but the tiny text just annoys the hell out of me. I'd gladly pay more for a book that is larger than 8" by 5.5" that would allow larger type. Perhaps there is an earlier edition that has larger type?

  6. Thanks for the warning. Sounds like the publisher didn't think it through. That's quite a heavy tome, too. If it's so poorly printed, it's hardly worth the bother.

    Most of it -- not every page, but quite a lot -- is available online, Google Books, and there may be some other site where you can download the whole thing.