Slandering Anarchists is the Only Disease

Slandering Anarchists is the Only Disease
a critique of Chris Hedges’ recent comments about Black Blocs

During a panel discussion on May Day, Amy Goodman asked Chris Hedges
about his recent article titled “The Cancer within Occupy”. After
strong criticisms on his website, an interview in which he admitted to
not having interviewed any Black Bloc participants, a piece by David
Graeber warning of the dangers of violence against a group portrayed
as cancerous, and even a critique by the International Bolshevik
Tendency, Hedges maintained that “You do not want to have
demonstrations where you permit people to cover their faces.”
As others have pointed out, the central flaw of the article lies in
treating black blocs as a coherent movement. The Wikipedia page linked
from his article warns against this mistake in its second paragraph,
stating that black bloc “is, rather, a tactic that may be adopted by
groups of various motivations and methods.” Hedges repeatedly refers
to Black Bloc anarchists as a movement, and attributes to them a
disdain for organization and organized groups like the Zapatistas. But
there is no ideological prerequisite for joining a Black Bloc: they
are composed of well-prepared groups, unprepared individuals
interested in militant action, and perhaps some police agents, who are
likely present in tamer areas also. Most members are anarchists, most
support the Zapatistas, and most are interested in organizing, which
is why they come in groups and sport similar gear.
Members of a Black Bloc sometimes do act unwisely, usually drawing
the strongest criticism from other members. Hedges could have
criticized the few who occasionally provoke police and endanger
non-confrontational protestors. Instead he attributes to the black
bloc the smashing of a coffee shop window in Oakland by an unmasked
possible provocateur, then extends this false characterization to
anyone wearing a bandana over their face. An entire movement of
organization-hating violent machistas certainly makes for a more
interesting story, but the genre should be fiction, not journalism.
This is what happens when a journalist writes about people without
ever talking with them. Hedges listened to a few hours of anarchist
radio in Eugene, Oregon, then read some blogs. He could have come to
any Occupy General Assembly and asked to interview people with
intimate knowledge of Black Blocs. Instead Hedges turned to someone
who opposed Black Blocs, Derrick Jensen, as his sole expert. Like
Hedges, Jensen fails to notice the heterogeneity of activists using
black bloc tactics, and ignores the origin of these tactics as an
effective response in Europe to police brutality and
corporate-controlled media.
For many who use them, black bloc tactics are not about terror, they
are about self-defense. A black bloc often acts to protect peaceful
marchers. Members of a bloc use shields, gas masks, and bandanas
soaked in vinegar to defend against clubs, projectiles, and tear gas.
They may be ready with gloves and buckets of water to throw back hot
tear-gas canisters or douse them. They also take great risks in
de-arresting fellow marchers. When asked about this important role of
Black Blocs, Hedges replied, “Let’s not paint these people as the
Boy Scouts, come on.” When Boy Scouts start de-arresting protesters
and protecting them from tear gas, I’ll start encouraging my son to
join up.
Even the mainstream of the occupy movement is embracing many Black
Bloc tactics. When members of our group, the Free Association of
Anarchists, brought shields to Occupy L.A., no one else had them. As
the eviction drew near, a majority of occupiers carried shields, and
the phenomenon was apparently nationwide. This represents a possible
transformation from an ethic of victimhood to one of self-defense.
Hedges argues that mainstream people will be turned off by
confrontation. I argue that historically oppressed people will be
turned off by statements like, “Our greatest strength is our
powerlessness…”
The worst thing about criticizing “violence” from activists is
that it fails to recognize where real violence comes from. As “TD”
commented on the “L.A. activist” website, “we carry signs and
chant slogans. The police carry guns, batons, tear gas and bean bag
rifles.” Anything carried out by a Blac Block pales in comparison to
what Occupier Jen Waller described on Democracy Now!:
“I was violently arrested with my friends and watched as
bloodthirsty cops stomped on their faces, knelt on their necks, pulled
them by their hair, and slammed them into windows. I watched as one
friend was treated as a battering ram as they carried him into an MTA
bus, slamming his head on every step and seat as they went along. I
watched as a young woman’s rib was broken, as she hyperventilated,
convulsed and seizured in the middle of the street.”
When mainstream news outlets fail to report such brutality against
protesters employing civil disobedience, other means are necessary.

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