Editor’s Note, September 2, 2017: Some of this article may apply to Charlottesville and to the future of dissent and protests, especially in the U.S. Do we play into the hands of those who are moving us toward a totalitarian state by succumbing to the temptation to use violence in the streets like the neo-Nazi alt-right? Do we succumb to cutting off their free speech and First Amendment rights without endangering our own in the future? Chomsky and Hedges, who have firmly stated their support of nonviolence and First Amendment rights around free speech, see a larger picture of what is at stake than just one demonstration, or a few demonstrations. One place the struggle to save our democracy and stop the move to a totalitarian state is playing out is on the streets and that is what Charlottesville has shown us. But it is also playing out in the courts, in the federal and state legislatures, in the opposition to racism (the wall, the ban) and in the action platforms of organizations like Black Lives Matter who recognize the larger struggle as well.
This is not to say that these protests should become violent to attract media attention. The deficit is rather on the other side. The mainstream corporate media should be covering these many nonviolent protests where people risk arrest and often go to jail for their actions.
The G20 (or G-20 or Group of Twenty) is an international forum for the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies. It was founded in 1999 with the aim of studying, reviewing, and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability. (Wikipedia)
By Sue Ann Martinson Rise Up Times July 10, 2017
This article was written in response to an article about an anti-G20 action in June:
German Railways Plunged Into Chaos by Anti-G20 Arson Attacks
Radical left-wing protesters have claimed responsibility for a string of arson attacks on the Deutsche Bahn, in protest at Germany’s hosting of the G20 summit next month.
♦ ♦ ♦
Once upon a time (it seems that long ago) when I was an undergraduate a professor from the English Department was a guest in my World History class with Dr. Breunig. Dr. Chaney of the English Department drew a very simple diagram on the chalkboard. Starting at the center bottom, he drew the shape of an oval; he labeled the right side the radical right and the left side the radical left. At the top which he marked with an X he showed where the two sides come together: in the use of violence as a tool, where radical right and left merge. This lesson has stayed with me all these years, and is once again in the forefront as a discussion in the left, along with the discussion about the emphasis on capitalism. The group “Shutdown G20 – take Hamburg off the net!” who have claimed responsibility in a statement is described as follows in this article: “They attempted to justify setting fire to the cables, claiming that they represent the ‘central nervous system’ of capitalism, transporting goods, labor and data.”
The obvious bias against them is clear in the way the description is framed, that is, “they attempted to justify” and “claiming that they represent.”
Beyond the obvious media bias, this action exemplifies a debate that is taking place around the use of violence, and what is nonviolence (does it include destruction of property) that was discussed during Occupy and before and continues today, as well as around capitalism, which has been described as reaching the state Karl Marx said it would, rebounding on itself: What Chris Hedges often condemns in his speeches and columns and what Henry Giroux calls Casino Capitalism.
In an article in Roar Magazine, Beyond Violence and Nonviolence, Ben Case discusses the use of both as tactics in the context of recent protests. He mentions the origins and uses of nonviolence in the 20th century in the work of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King (although he does not mention Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience from the previous century) during a time when armed insurrection was also taking place around the world. But his focus on what he considers violence is on such acts as window breaking and throwing stones, minor property damage, not damage to human beings. It is in that context that he discusses violence and nonviolence and their various strategic uses, as well as commenting on the moral basis for nonviolence.
Case raises some interesting questions about the use of nonviolent tactics as he describes them. For example, some argue that such tactics and confrontations with the police lead to more press coverage, given the mainstream media’s proclivity to violence. Others argue that such coverage is detrimental to the cause being pursued. Some think fear of violence drives people away from protest, others think it attracts people to protest.
The escalation of tactics is of concern: to include a public utility such as a train signals desperation, an increased distress that demands attention be directed to the oppressive forces of capitalism on steroids in our present moment. Clearly the organizers of the bombings were very careful that human life was not taken. An important question is, will this lead to even increased tactics involving property damage with risk of human life being taken in the process.
Case uses a quotation from Martin Luther King from his last book The Trumpet of Conscience (1968), a collection of speeches supporting the use of nonviolence.
King is speaking here in particular about the Black community. His statement has echoes of Ferguson and other demonstrations held recently around the country. But also it touches on some important points: first, no human beings were injured in the attacks on property, and second, the attacks on property were symbolic, in this case against the system of white supremacy that has exploited black labor throughout U.S. history, whether slavery, chain gangs, or other forms of Jim Crow. Likewise, the destruction of property by violent means may also be viewed as symbolic, whether window breaking or stones or water bottles thrown, and so on. The group that bombed the trains before the G20 certainly viewed their actions that way, although the use of bombings is certainly an escalation of tactics.
Case calls for a fresh approach to the question of nonviolence vs. violence:
It is not about which team wins symbolic points in the violence-nonviolence debate; it is about how different groups’ tactical approaches can work in harmony to build power. In the context of today’s movements, the broad argument over violence and nonviolence is at best a distraction. At worst, it promotes a good protester/bad protester narrative that helps the state divide and conquer movements. We need a fresh approach.
In regard to a fresh approach, Case does not mention the St. Paul Principles, which were developed in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time of the Republican National Convention in 2008: they call for a separation of time and space between nonviolent and more disruptive tactics that may be used in mass protest. The St. Paul Principles were re-adapted and used during the Occupy movement by many groups nationwide.
Perhaps Case’s comment here is meant to include the St. Paul Principles:
The civil resistance playbook says that when there is protester violence, nonviolent groups should try to enforce nonviolent discipline or distance themselves. But this response is based less in strategic logic than in a stubborn and unfounded belief that any violence at all is necessarily a movement-stopper.
I would disagree with this last sentence. The idea of separation of space and time is to protect protesters who do not wish to take the risk of being collateral damage in actions that may result in police violence. As an example, I cite a personal anecdote about the protest at the Republican Convention in 2004 in New York City: A group immediately in front of us in the march let forth a large vertical flame when we reached the place where the convention was being held. It was a theatrical performance a much as anything else, and very contained. Nonetheless the police went berserk in seeking out those responsible, and one of our group, who from the back looked like one of those responsible for the flame contraption, was grabbed and very roughly treated by the police. They also sent in police mounted on horseback into the crowd. Fortunately, the horses were well-behaved and no one was hurt. But the protester from our group, who had done nothing more than march and chant, had a sign on a wooden stick in her backpack, and the cop grabbed her by the pack and the stick to whirl her around; while not seriously injured, she was nonetheless unjustly targeted and hurt. A separation of time and space prevents such collateral damage. The St. Paul Principles were developed by people who participated in and were affected by that 2004 march.
Recently in St. Paul, the place of origin for the St. Paul principles, Officer Yanez was found Not Guilty of the murder of Philando Castile, which made national and international news. Yanez wasn’t even cited for unprofessional behavior resulting in an unnecessary death. On Friday June 16th after the verdict, a protest at the Capitol (St. Paul being the capital of Minnesota), moved to nearby interstate 94 and blocked the freeway for hours. I was appalled at the show of force by the armed militants—whoops, aren’t the militants the protesters? The forces were frightening in their militancy, including the highway patrol, a St. Paul police special unit dressed all in black, and some sort of powerful tactical military vehicle, all summoned to intimidate and “deal with” the protesters. Of course, their purpose was to intimidate.
The local news painted the cops as the good guys who prevented violence, whereas Unicorn Riot, an alternative media source that live-streamed the blocking of 94, which I watched, commented that not even a water bottle had been thrown at the cops, clearly showing great restraint on the part of the protesters who were determined to make the protest nonviolent. And were most likely following the St. Paul Principles, which are still used in planning demonstrations. Some verbal sallies by protesters amounted to the extent of it the “violence,” although some may have viewed the disruption, that is, the inconvenience of 94 being closed as it is a major freeway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, as unfair to those traveling the freeway that night. But there were not similar complaints about January 21st (Women’s Inauguration Protest) when 100,000 people showed up for a demonstration at the Capitol, and traffic was very congested all around the Capitol, including 94 which is a major artery used to travel to and from the Capitol. (Do I hear, “Oh but that was different”? But was it?) The show of force as live-streamed by Unicorn Riot at the closing of 94 was not only out of proportion to the demonstration and unnecessary, it was revolting.
In the talk by Chris Hedges in the video linked above and shown here below, Hedges makes the very clear link between capitalism and the militarism it engenders as it is unfolding under Trump in an even more virulent form than previously. This is why opposition to capitalism and to militarism and a desire for a world without war are so closely linked. Hedges describes the increased militarism of local police forces and describes what takes place, not in specific detail of place but in general terms of how capitalism and militarism work together hand in glove and that this merging is intentional and is related to the oppression of people of color and anyone who opposes a capitalist system that exploits labor and oppresses the poor—remembering that many of the underpaid workers worldwide are people of color and many people of color, especially children, live in poverty, thus harking back to King’s statement about the white power structure.
In an hour-long speech, these points are covered in the first 15 minutes as Hedges goes on to explain specifics around the Trump administration that point to fascism and racism and capitalism on steroids. His comments about violence versus nonviolence begin at about 56 minutes into his talk. He outlines the reasons he finds nonviolence is the necessary form of resistance, mainly because violence aids and abets the violent forces that are against resistance.
What is true in all of this, is that nonviolent protests that do not involve direct confrontation with police are much more likely not to be covered by the media, a point Case does make. As I am writing this, David Swanson has posted news of a nonviolent action against killer drones at Volk Air Force Base in Wisconsin. Actions such as this type of nonviolent civil disobedience take place regularly by dedicated nonviolent activists across the country and internationally as well, yet seldom are they covered outside their own territory except by alternative press.
The connections between, for example, Trump’s ban that includes Muslim countries and that those same countries are beleaguered by constant drone attacks and are part and parcel of the Trump agenda are not made. Except for a few, such militarism remains untouched by many activists. The activists who turned out for Philando Castile in great numbers do not necessarily turn out for antiwar demonstrations, except the groups like members of Veterans for Peace and followers of Kathy Kelly’s Voices for Creative Nonviolence, and locally the Antiwar Committee and Women Against Military Madness and student groups.
The same may be said for climate activists. They do not include militarism in their equation of protest, except such as the police violence experienced at Standing Rock. They do not see it as part of a larger picture and the relationship between international violence against indigenous people, the ravages of endless war on the environment and the effects of climate change on indigenous populations, and of course that so many of these wars are capitalistic wars being fought for geopolitical reasons around resources, not the least of which is fossil fuel. They do not make the connections between capitalism and militarism as both ravage the country and world. Or if they do understand the connections, they do not act on them or educate about them. It is as if militarism is the elephant in the room, or perhaps the sacred cow.
This is not to say that these protests should become violent to attract media attention. The deficit is rather on the other side. The mainstream corporate media should be covering these many nonviolent protests where people risk arrest and often go to jail for their actions. All risk some security to do so. Many risk health and their financial living resources. They do not commit to civil disobedience lightly but with an understanding of the possible consequences of unjust jail terms and more. And they understand the connections to the CEOs of weapons and drones manufacturers who are the .01 percent of the 99 percent. Is it really national security that is driving endless war? Or is it corporate greed?
And as the G20 progresses, the media are full of the “violence” of the protesters. From the misleading headlines on the reports, it would look as if 100,000 protesters are rioting. Rather this report from the Sunday Express sums up the situation (not a headline):
About 20,000 police struggled to contain several hundred anti-capitalist protesters who torched cars, looted shops and hurled Molotov cocktails and stones during the July 7-8 summit in Germany. Tens of thousands more people demonstrated peacefully.
That last statement about tens of thousands of people who demonstrated peacefully makes no headlines and is barely mentioned in the rush by the mainstream corporate media to cover the property damage and police violence against the relatively few number of protesters who are responsible. Coverage of the issues of why they are protesting is almost entirely absent from the mainstream corporate media.
Which takes us back to the connections between capitalism and militarism. And to the bombings before the G20 in Germany. The group responsible very clearly stated their reasons for the bombings, as would the tens of thousands nonviolent demonstrators now protesting at the G20 talks were they give even half a chance. Like the dedicated antiwar activists in the United States, they also understand the obvious racism, as well as the basis for empire that creates the geopolitical nature of endless war for resources—especially fossil fuel but also precious metals and other rare and valuable resources worldwide—and that capitalism run amok endangers the planet, the survival of the earth itself.
All the mainstream corporate media press seems capable of in the miasma of their role as lackey to corporate interests is covering the protests and protesters as if they committed such furious acts out of sheer nastiness and not in desperation. As if the tens of thousands who remained nonviolent were not even there, as if their voices did not matter. Only those who were violent counted and deserved media coverage in any way. And then only for their violence, not for the insanity of inequalities of wealth, endless war, threats of nuclear war, and threats to the planet earth that brought 100,000 to Hamburg to say No More!
In the meantime in Yemen:
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
From the poem “I’m Explaining a Few Things” by Pablo Neruda
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Do we play into the hands of those who are moving us toward a totalitarian state by succumbing to the temptation to use violence in the streets like the neo-Nazi alt-right?