April 2, 2012
Non-violence as Pathology in Occupy Wall Street

A swarm of locusts descends upon a field. A volcano erupts, magma coursing through its earthen veins. The waves crash upon the shoreline. Where there is movement, there is repetition. In none of those cases would you expect the pests or the plate tectonics to go online and check how it had been done before. 

But we’re people, not elements or locusts. We’re capable of learning from the past. Of seeing what was done correctly, and as much trying to build better methods when we’d met failure before. And the contradiction between non-violent activists, who likely make up a firm majority at Liberty Plaza, and those whose morality isn’t built upon pacifism is like a rerun. I hope it’s the one with the happy ending.

I understand pacifists. It’s an easy morality to base yourself upon. Hurting someone is wrong. We want a world where people don’t hurt people. Non-violence is mixed. In the OWS uprising, it has been a major asset. People have been brutalized. They have very rarely hit back. And we have survived and grown.

But as a dogma, non-violence is as its name indicates. It is exclusionary. Aside from the terms used to connote opposition to oppression (anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-corporate) it is the only exclusionary term that is found on the center-left with such frequency. Its proponents would claim it is equal to those other examples.

But at its worst, it is a dividing line that attacks people individually, rather than uniting us collectively. Liberty Plaza is intended to be a non-violent space. It is for the most part. If someone is assaulted by an aggressive drunk and defends themself, is that an act of violence? If people are brutalized or caged by police and defends themselves, is that violence?

Non-violence not only argues that protesters should turn on protesters, it opens the door to violence. Peace Police, marshals or violent pacifists manhandle those they see involved in behavior they disagree with. Some pacifists persist in attempting to invoke sympathy from a brutal and racist police force, while shunning their own brothers and sisters who have worked to build Liberty Plaza if they dare engage on self-defense.

And just as dangerously, many self-defined non-violent activists refuse to define violence. Violence is a person’s physical aggression upon another. It is not the smashing of a window, the slitting of a tire or the placing of a sticker. Those are destructive. And Liberty Plaza is a non-destructive space as much as it is a non-violent space. But the two shouldn’t be conflated. If you are opposing the theory of corporate personhood, you have to deny the idea that property has personhood as well.

In the past, we have seen such contradictions. There are two possible outcomes. There is either a split, a break in unity, some pacifists become snitches (and others absolutely don’t, refusing ever to collaborate with the inherently violent police state), and the movement collapses in division and badjacketing. OccupyWallStreet veers dangerously close to this edge.

Or something called a respect for “diversity of tactics” arises. Before that term applied, the Deacons for Defense would respect Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent marches but he must respect the presence of their armed guard to defend the people from white terror. The anti-war movements had to contend with the same issue, both around Viet Nam and Iraq. In Palestine, non-violent movements are emerging, but some of their participants are little old West Bank women who will hit an IDF soldier back if manhandled.

We dealt with this frequently in our summit-hopping days. In the Counter Globalization movement, and likewise at various Republican National Convention demonstrations. Different sides of the same movement would negotiate. The intention was to maintain our unity and genuinely respect each other’s styles and value systems. We would not denounce each other in the media. We would not lay hands upon each other. There would be no violence or destructive tactics near explicitly non-violent actions. There would be different zones (green, yellow and red) where there would be different degrees of activity, based on spectra of legality and militancy.

Here are some of the statements, that sometimes took weeks or months to negotiate. Sometimes groups locked themselves into rooms in order to hash out the particulars. And it worked. Far more than creating a movement where we respect every freely associated individual’s right to (non-hateful) autonomy… unless it encroaches upon our sense of morality. 

At the RNC in Saint Paul in 2008 - http://rnc08report.org/archive/224.shtml

OccupyBoston Statement - http://www.occupyboston.org/2011/10/07/statement-of-diversity-of-tactics/

A good sum up on Diversity of Tactics - http://uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/01-anti-globalization-and-diversity-of-tactics/

A veteran non-violent activist’s thoughts - http://www.starhawk.org/activism/activism-writings/quebeclessons.html

Another writer talks about DoT and OWS - http://wagingnonviolence.org/2011/10/what-diversity-of-tactics-really-means-for-occupy-wall-street/

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