Thursday, April 19, 2012

On Violence and Resistance

Theodor de Bry, Ilustración de la Brevísima de De las Casas, c. 1552

The various Spanish entradas into New Mexico were accompanied by so much grotesque violence that it ought to shock the conscience of even the most hardened would-be conquistador. Today, of course, Americans are pretty much inured to the cruelties of Our Valiant Troops as they march in conquest around the globe, slaughtering and dispossessing the gibbering Natives along the way, while teaching them -- of course -- the benefits of Democracy. Not unlike the Franciscans who accompanied the Spanish Conquistadors, teaching the Natives to welcome the benefits of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and of course to submit to the rule of their distant but always merciful overlord, the King and Emperor Whoever-it-Might-Be in Spain.

The scene above is not specifically from New Mexico, but it might as well have been. The report is that in the winter of 1541, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his multitudinous seekers after Cibola and the remaining Gold of the Indies decided to camp in the Rio Grande Valley, in the province of Tiguex, near modern-day Albuquerque. They demanded supplies of the Natives, which were mostly given though with some grumbling. When the weather turned cold -- and it does get cold in the Albuquerque area to this day -- the Spanish demanded that the Natives closest by vacate their pueblo and turn it over to the Spanish for their comfort and convenience; the Natives could go live with their friends in other pueblos in the region. The Natives vacated as demanded and the Spanish moved in.

The Spanish let their stock and horses graze over the Indians' harvested fields of corn -- thus consuming the fuel (dried corn stalks) that the Natives used for heat and cooking during the wintertime. The Indians captured some 40 of the free-roaming animals, mostly horses and mules, and according to reports, they killed them all. In addition to supplies and shelter and the consumption of winter fuel, the Spanish demanded women, and if they weren't sufficiently forthcoming, the Spanish took what they wanted. This was the proverbial last straw.

Naturally the Spanish proclaimed that the Natives had "declared war." Spanish conquistadors being peaceful and all.

The Spanish assaulted one pueblo after another, driving the residents to assemble in and fortify the one remaining pueblo where the Indians held out for two months against Spanish aggression. Finally, they negotiated a surrender of sorts, with promises from the Spanish of no reprisals, and in fact of "pardons" to the rebels.

What that meant was that two hundred of those who surrendered would be burned at the stake as a "lesson" to other Pueblo peoples. What would happen to the survivors was undetermined until they tried to flee, at which time they were slaughtered in their multitudes.

All of the Tiguex pueblos in the Albuquerque area were abandoned and some were destroyed altogether during the winter of 1541, but Coronado and his murderous band of thieves, er "Conquistadors", withdrew from New Mexico in 1542 after failing to find the fabled remaining Cities of Gold (but he did see the Grand Canyon and buffalo herds). He was a broken man, so they say, and never fully recovered from his failure. So we are supposed to feel sympathy for him. He did his best in a Glorious Cause, and only killed those Natives because he was provoked. You see. He took their supplies, their houses and their women because he needed them. Simple.

What actually happened during the winter of 1541 is still subject to considerable dispute in New Mexico, in part because the Tiguex pueblos were all reported to be occupied and prospering when the Spanish came back to reconnoiter in the 1580's and they were still apparently doing fine when Juan de Oñate came a-Conquering again in 1598, and they were still going strong until the 1620's when Spanish diseases started decimating the Natives, ultimately reducing their populations to only a handful compared to previously. The Tiguex pueblos would finally be abandoned during the Pueblo Revolt of the 1680's, though two -- Sandia and Isleta -- would be restored after the de Vargas Reconquista of 1692, and Indian refugees would be invited to return from their scattered locations around the territory.

After all, the Spanish needed laborers.

To this day, Coronado, Oñate, and de Vargas, so celebrated among the Spanish in New Mexico, are regarded with contempt bordering on fury by the Pueblo peoples for their cruelty and duplicity. While it is not completely clear what really happened during the Coronado sojourn in the Rio Grande Valley -- thanks to the fact that the Spanish had a tendency to wildly exaggerate their exploits (including their murderous rampages) and the Indians were reluctant to talk about it afterwards -- it's obvious from some of the remains that still litter the ground around the former pueblos that something terrible happened that winter and that likely many people suffered. The only problem the story as it was told in Mexico after Coronado's return is that burning two hundred people at the stake is no easy task, the Spanish were notoriously lazy when it came to performing "work", and the Indians were decidedly resistant to taking orders from their New (but at the time temporary) Overlords.

The point is that this first Spanish entrada, and all the subsequent ones were accomplished with almost inconceivable levels of violence by the invaders and any sign of even peaceful resistance by the Natives was brutally and murderously crushed. In other words, no matter what the Indians did -- including submission, or the appearance of submission -- the Spanish would treat them violence. The question for the Pueblo peoples then and now is how do you survive under the circumstances? Apparently they found some kind of answer, because they have not only survived but in some respects they have flourished; today the Pueblo peoples form the base and the backbone of New Mexico's unique culture and society.

This is no small accomplishment.

The Pueblo Revolt turned the tables on the Spanish in 1680, leading to the deaths of many Spanish and the expulsion of the remainder (actions that were patterned on the behavior of the Spanish toward the Indians). And it seems that "doing unto the Spanish" what the Spanish had done to the Indians, even if ultimately the Spanish were allowed to return, was sufficient to change the relationship between the Indians and the Spanish enough to develop a kind of mutual if grudging respect for one another and one another's presence and culture that endures (tentatively) to this day.

Anglos tend to be outside this whole cultural and social dynamic, and I make no pretense of understanding it more than superficially -- if that.

Humility about things we don't really understand is not generally something Anglos display with confidence, yet those of us who have so much to learn would do well to listen more than speak about such matters as the relationships between the Spanish and the Indians in New Mexico. It's certainly not what we may think it is, and it probably isn't anything like what it looks like to us.

So it's with something of dismay that I present the following video of Chris Hedges and Kevin Zeese pontificating at a gathering in Washington, DC, on the question of nonviolence particularly as it relates to the behavior of "Black Bloc Anarchists," which clearly they know nothing of.

Or if they do know something of that which they speak, they are deliberately obfuscating for the purpose of propaganda, demonization, and scapegoating. In other words, they appear to be on a mission to civilize and control the "natives" -- as it were -- and to expel (or otherwise deal with) those who refuse to submit to their authority.

Not unlike the Spanish priests and conquistadors back in the day.

And note, please, that the largely older and very Anglo (ie: white) crowd -- this event, remember, is taking place in Washington, DC -- cheers and applauds the assertions of Authority and the pontificiations of the Missionaries from the pulpit (in a manner of speaking).

They are certainly hearing what they want about the nature of "revolution" and the priority of "nonviolence."

Which, by the way, the speakers are only interested in to the extent they can control and direct the actions of others -- or eliminate them.

The obsession with Black Bloc that seems to animate these speakers and this crowd is in many ways the same sort of obsessive need to control The Other that was so prominent in the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the subsequent British and American fascination with doing likewise. Taking territory and treasure is certainly part of the process of conquest, but often as important, if not more important, is the control of the behavior of others, of the Natives as it were, and failing that (or sometimes as a consequence of the ability to control them) their extermination.

The Anarchists, Black Bloc or not, have been demonized by Hedges and Zeese and their ilk as The Other, to be feared, denounced, expelled and eliminated from the Occupy Movement, and I would suggest the reason is simple: they've been successful.

The success of genuine Revolution is not at all what Hedges and Zeese and their followers want, at least not the success of a genuinely populist and largely anarchist Revolution. There is almost nothing more fearsome to them. What they want, if I can carry the analogy to the Spanish Conquistadors and their religious advocates a little farther, is to be able to order and control the lives of others even more thoroughly than present governments do, and to become those governments.

This is a form of Revolution, to be sure, but it is Revolution by imposition from the top down.

The notion that Anarchism and/or the Occupy Movement as a whole is somehow or can somehow become a violent insurrection because somebody somewhere sometime ago threw a bottle or broke a window is absurd on its face. Yet Hedges and Zeese and their followers at this event (as well as a whole cohort of "nonviolence" advocates) continue to insist that a broken window or a thrown bottle is the most serious offense possible if it occurs in connection with Occupy. The violence of the state or the implicit violence of their demonizing and eliminationist rhetoric is nothing compared to the overt "violence" of a thrown bottle or a broken window. After a while, this sort of ridiculousness becomes tiresome. But they are preaching to a choir of believers, and that's the most important -- and potentially dangerous -- thing.

One of the points often made by the Anarchists who are and have always been at the core of the Occupy Movement (unlike Hedges and Zeese) is that prefiguration, anticipation, and modeling what kind of future we want to see is an important, indeed fundamental, aspect of the Occupy Movement. It's the central element of the Revolutionary nature of Occupy, and it is the most threatening to the Powers That Be. That's why there had to be such a coordinated and brutal suppression of the Occupy encampments, for they are the "models" -- or at least the beginnings of the models -- of what can be and ought to be in the future.

We find with Hedges and Zeese and their followers, however, that the kind of future they are modeling is more like that of a Medieval Inquisition. Hedges, especially, is becoming more and more like a Savonarola. As you see in the video, He and Zeese sit in judgement of their nemesis, the Black Bloc, and declare from their pulpits anathema upon them, just as the Spanish priests railed against Native observances, always leading to more or less brutal suppression -- until the Natives fought back using Spanish terror, demonization, and expulsion tactics against them.

That changed the dynamic.

In the modern situation, there is no necessity to fight back against Hedges and Zeese and their followers because they have little or no power over the Movement -- regardless of their desires and demands. It is their powerlessness over the Movement that seems to be driving them to ever greater levels of rhetorical excess.

The question is whether the Movement in its collective wisdom will find ways to change the dynamic between the ruling corporatocracy and the People such that the corporatocracy must "respect" the People rather than continuing on the course of mindless destruction and exploitation.

The Pueblo People found a way to change the dynamic between themselves and their Spanish overlords by assaulting them with their own tactics: they learned and used the bloody and violent means of the Spaniards against them and drove them out of the region. The consequence was that they found themselves becoming too much like the Spaniards, however, and in the end, they decided it was better to preserve what they could of their traditional way of life and to go forward on a new path with the Spanish rather than in constant conflict and opposition to them -- or in intentional or unintentional emulation of them.

The Pueblo Peoples of New Mexico are the descendants of the legendary Anasazi who built the proud ruins in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Despite extreme natural and human pressures over many centuries, they are extraordinary survivors, and we'd all do well to consider their example.

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