I’ve never been a supporter of break-windows, torch-cars, fight-the-police tactics during street demonstrations. I was also not a supporter of Weather Underground bombings and other militant violence during the Vietnam war days. So when people dressed in black used those tactics on Inauguration Day in Washington, DC, and when they did the same just a couple days ago at the University of California/Berkeley campus, I wasn’t glad to see it.
We need a resistance movement, yes. But for strategic reasons, as well as deeper reasons, that movement should engage in a diversity of nonviolent tactics. It should also be willing to criticize tactics that cross that line.
I’ve been part of discussions on Facebook and in person the last couple of weeks about this set of issues. Some on Facebook, friends who share the view that strategic nonviolence is the way to go, take the position that we should not condemn window-breakers, that their anger is legitimate and we don’t want to help the government isolate and come down hard on them. They personally know some of the people who are drawn towards use of these tactics and know them to be good people.
I don’t doubt that this is true. I know it’s true. But I don’t think any of us are above criticism. I believe in constructive criticism, believe we all need it. Indeed, from my years of experience in the progressive movement, I think that if we are going to eventually win in the struggle for people’s power and a new world, we must integrate constructive, not destructive, criticism into a personally supportive, movement culture.
Constructive criticism is a good thing; it is not throwing people you disagree with under the bus, as some have called it.
Window-breaking, fighting the police, hitting neo-Nazis in the face is not going to help us win. Most fundamentally, that is because our work is, more than anything else, political in nature. We must be about the work of drawing more and more people into the people’s resistance movement, into support of it and into acts of resistance on the streets or in other less publicly visible ways.
The Trump administration and the ruling powers-that-be are not threatened by several hundred people dressed in black breaking windows on K St. They are threatened by millions demonstrating all over the country in an organized and coordinated way. Or by hundreds or thousands, like at Standing Rock, willing to risk arrest and injury or even death, without guns, for what is right.
I’ll admit: my first reaction when seeing neo-Nazi leader Richard Spencer punched in the face on the streets of DC on Facebook was, “yeah, way to go.” But that was quickly followed by thoughts of how that and similar actions were going to be responded to, over time, by ultra-rightists who are prone to violence and armed. Isn’t it likely that this is going to lead to them attacking not anonymous and unknown people dressed in black during demonstrations but, instead, immigrants and people of color and Jews and women and lgbtq people, taking out their anger on those most at risk in this new Trumpian political climate?
Do we really want to see an escalation of racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant violence? I know we don’t, including black bloc people. Don’t we want to deescalate those possibilities by being a movement which stands up strong and takes direct action but which also looks to do what has been done many times down through history—win over some of the individuals, probably not a lot, but some who have, for whatever reasons, been caught up on the other side, in the networks of racism, violence and evil, or in the power structure?
Gandhi once said that, although he was completely committed to nonviolent resistance, it was better to engage in violent resistance than to be passive and accepting of evil. I agree with that. But much better is the use of nonviolent strategies and tactics that have been proven to be the most effective way to win in many situations.
A healthy movement is one that allows for constructive debate over differences. I hope that some of those who are into window-breaking and the like will be willing to consider criticisms like mine or to articulate their disagreements and explain how they see their tactics leading to the power to the people revolution so desperately needed.
Ted Glick has been a progressive activist and organizer since 1968. Past writings and other information can be found at www.tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jtglick