Friday, November 23, 2012

Act Intelligently

Reading articles on militant direct action at Wrong Kind of Green and anarchism at Green is the New Red, I am concerned about the attraction of vigilantism to frustrated activists that leads them to commit felonies. There are good reasons for not condoning these acts, even when righteously motivated, not the least of which is doing hard time. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the effect on social movements of vigilantism and terrorism, which might not be adequately considered by those contemplating these militant direct actions.
While perspective and judgement are understandably not fully developed in young activists, their energy and enthusiasm, devotion and commitment is an asset social movements can ill afford to squander. Martyring political prisoners who committed acts of terrorism in South Africa or Northern Ireland as part of organized social movements with a political agenda of establishing democratic good governance is one thing; martyring rudderless young people is another.
Will Potter at Green is the New Red rightly condemns the FBI witch hunts against anarchists, but anarchists who see themselves as unconstrained by societal norms bring some of this on themselves. Compare the American anarchists’ culture of vigilantism with the Greek anarchists culture of defending democracy, and you can see what I mean. When American anarchists can start speaking in churches and schools about their values in a way that resonates with civil and human rights, then they will have the moral authority to enter the much needed political discussions. Until then, they will remain bogeymen used by the Department of Justice to suspend civil liberties and repress free speech.
While I discussed resistance warfare in my essay The Power of Moral Sanction, I did not get into the subject of terrorism. My friend Paul de Armond did, though, in his essay Terrorists and Terrorism Experts. Paul has considerable experience in dealing with right-wing terrorists in the United States, so it’s a subject he knows something about.
When DAN organized direct action during the 1999 Seattle WTO protests in the form of civil disobedience, the protest and demonstration against globalization entered the consciousness of billions worldwide. Likewise the 1994 Zapatista social netwar in Mexico. One can follow the development of this consciousness to #Occupy and the Indignados and the student strikes in Europe and Quebec.
I do not think WKOG or Green is the New Red are promoting terrorism. Wrong Kind of Green and its featured speaker Steve Best are both making valuable contributions to the understanding of activism, liberation movements and the social context within which they operate. Something Paul and I have attempted to do through Public Good Project.
WKOG’s estimate of the situation is informative, and my remarks are intended to address the self-isolating culture of vigilantism some self-identified anarchists have adopted–”fetishizing violence” as Dr. Best described it. Terrorism is a tactical tool,  not a way of life.

I agree with Best’s analysis of confrontation as a means of mobilizing resistance. I myself have used this to good effect in community organizing, which is very hard work. If she were still alive, I would say ask Judi Bari.

The type of discussion WKOG and Dr. Best are making possible through journalism and public speaking is a vital one; I would only note that recruiting, socializing and nurturing activists sympathetic to our goals, but constrained by pacifist faiths like Quakerism, is something we need to take into consideration. When I faced down armed militias threatening environmental and human rights activists in the 1990s, the people who showed up to support me were Quakers and Catholic Workers. A lesson about “liberation theology” I’ll always remember.

As Best stated, act intelligently.

Power to the peaceful!


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