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A polemic on protest: Reflections on the RNC resistance

Raechel Tiffe

Platypus Review 7 | October 2008

[PDF]

I decided not to participate in any illegal protests at the RNC.

There’s a simple, material reason: Had I been arrested I would have been accountable for bail money (or unhappily relying on legal defense funds that I truly feel have more value elsewhere) and possibly a day’s worth of income. I have been and continue to be a member of the working class. I grew up with a single mother who worked two low-paying jobs, and for the past five years, living on my own, I have survived well below the poverty line. I am also currently uninsured and without health care. Culturallyspeaking, the working class community might not see me so equitably; I am, after all, college educated and on my path towards the ivory tower. But still, getting arrested was not financially feasible for me. I have rent to pay.

The other reason is a little more complicated. I was afraid that I wouldn’t agree with the whole agenda. I was proved right. I support: blockading the GOP buses, blocking intersections, radical dance parties in public space. I don’t support: smashing windows/cars, violent hate rhetoric (“What do we want? Bush Dead!”), and, most importantly, making abstractions out of human beings.

It is not surprising or necessarily regrettable that not everyone has the same version of anarchism. And so I am not angry that there are those who choose to interpret and perform it differently, but I am angry when that performance goes so blatantly against some of the fundamental elements of this “new world in our hearts” that so many radical/anarchist/progressives claim to want. And I am angry when—even if people aren’t moral pacifists—that a “movement” that claims to want the revolution can’t even see the relevance in strategic pacifism. To use the most obvious and simple example: the protesters during the Civil Rights movement did not fight back, the media captured it all, and they gained the vast majority of support from our nation. I’m not trying to say that the fight against capitalism is the same as the fight against racist legislation, but I am certainly not above borrowing tactics that actually worked.

True, I was a Peace Studies minor and am chock full of stories of peaceful victories. But I am no longer a blind pacifist. Given tangible goals, sometimes destruction makes sense. The Autonomen, the original Black Bloc, protected their squats through aggressive confrontation. This is a real, concrete goal. Fighting to end ‘Republican’ ideology is not. Breaking a Department store window will not end American conservativism.

The violence at the RNC seems to me completely goal-less. Worse, it stands in opposition to the solidarity we claim to embody. Macy’s windows and those smashed up cop cars are going to be fixed by working class men and women, probably pissed that they have to spend extra time replacing what was in perfectly good condition a day ago. Similarly, when anarchist groups participate in illegal action at Immigrant’s Rights marches, they do so with complete disregard for their “comrades” who would be deported were they to be nearby someone who was instigating the police. How’s that for solidarity?

When polarization occurs within the “movement” itself, we become weaker, more divided and further and further away from the revolution. I don’t think the solution is utopia- group-think. Cultural identity can motivate individuals towards greater and greater participation. But there needs to be an idea big enough for everyone to agree on, an idea that takes precedence over the fun of diverse tactics.

Imagine for a moment that the RNC Welcoming Committee decided to declare a complete commitment to non-violence. More Americans will participate in nonviolent actions that have less potential for getting them arrested than violent action that will, imagine that instead of figuring out how to hide hammers in their pants, the RNC Welcoming Committee went out and organized every single group that attended the mainstream march. Imagine now that those 50,000 people sitting in the intersection, blocking the GOP buses. The cops wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. The world would watch, and the radical left would gain sympathy and support.

A comrade noted that she thought we were supposed to be protesting the violence and hate perpetrated by the Bush/McCain regime, not re-enacting it. How can we, as revolutionaries dedicated to a just and peaceful world, create that through violence and hate? I believe in the power of temporary autonomous zones present in the spirit of political action in the streets, the creation of our new world in the ephemeral but blissful moments of united rebellion... but my new world has no smashed glass. My new world has no fear of attack. My new world has dance parties and kisses and laughter and music and vegan food and chants that make you feel so warm n’ fuzzy that you become physically incapable of causing harm to another!

My new world is not “us” taking over “them.” When the oppressed seek to overcome opression by becoming themselves oppressors, absolutely no one wins. When one attacks another human being who seems inhuman[e], the attacker too becomes inhuman[e] in that act. It is impossible to be fully present and human[e] in violence. As Paulo Friere wrote: “How can the oppressed, as divided unauthentic beings, participate in the pedagogy of their liberation? As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible…. Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one.” A childbirth, he writes, because it will be new and unlike anything we’ve seen before. We’ve seen violence before, we’ve seen things smashed and people hurt. But we haven’t yet seen our liberation.... |P

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