Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Sculpture of Exception: The Black Bloc's Interactive Art at the Toronto G20

The Sculpture of Exception: The Black Bloc's Interactive Art at the Toronto G20 from brandon jourdan on Vimeo.

Beka Economopoulos, a member of the Brooklyn-based group Not An Alternative, interprets a moving sculpture by artists at the Toronto G20 using the “Black Bloc” method of sculpting. The piece entitled “The Sculpture of Exception,” ironically turns political theorist Carl Schmitt’s “state of exception” on its head. The state of exception, according to Schmitt, frees the executive from any legal restraints to its power that would normally apply in a given crisis situation or any situation where power needs self-legitimization.

“The Sculpture of Exception” illustrates that collective bodies can also operate outside legal restraints when governments perpetuate crisis through capital consolidation and austerity. The piece draws attention to the possibilities for refusal and non-compliance in the face of such given force and shows a dialectic that forms within this context.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

G20 Activists warned that speaking to media could lead to jail

Activists warned that speaking to media could lead to jail

OPP seeks to silence alleged G20 protest ringleaders
Activists warned that speaking to media could lead to jail

July 29, Toronto – The OPP have warned two alleged G20 protest ringleaders that their recent media interviews are a violation of bail conditions not to organize, participate or advise protests. On the morning of July 28, OPP officers called their sureties and threatened to re-jail them if they persist in speaking to the media. Leah Henderson and Alex Hundert were released on bail on Monday July 19, three weeks after they were arrested at gunpoint in a pre-emptive nighttime raid on their Toronto home.

“There could hardly be a clearer indication that the police are trying to silence the voices of these organizers at all costs. Alex and Leah refuse to be intimidated from speaking out about their experiences and the daily injustices perpetrated against our society’s most marginalized communities,” says Faraz Shahidi, their supporter and member of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG – Toronto).

Leah and Alex recently appeared on CBC radio, Toronto Sun, Vancouver Media Co-op, and Rabble decrying the politically-motivated nature of the charges against them and calling on all people to support Indigenous communities, poor people, precarious migrants, and communities under occupation in the face of attacks by the leaders and policies of the G20 on their lands, livelihood, and health.

“Freely expressing opinions is not illegal. These violations of the right to free speech and the freedom of the press to speak to G20 defendants have a grave impact on all of us,” said Ryan White, a lawyer with the Movement Defense Committee.

According to well-known constitutional lawyer Clayton Ruby, “The targeting of activists should be of concern to all of us. The erosion of Charter rights, the trampling of civil liberties, and the criminalization of dissent is an attempt to destroy the foundation of our society. Everyone has an equal stake in this.”

Leah Henderson and Alex Hundert will appear in court again on Friday to defend against a Crown appeal of their bail. Dave Vasey, an anti-G20 environmental justice organizer who was arrested for breaking the illusory 5-metre rule under the Public Works Act on June 24, 2010, appeared in court on Wednesday only to find that his charges had mysteriously disappeared from all court and police records, circumstances the presiding justice of the peace called “highly unusual.”

“The mass arrests and targeting of activists raises serious issues about the criminalization of dissent as we confront deepening austerity on a global basis. These instances make visible the power of the police and governments to continue acting with impunity,” says Cynthia Wright, a York University professor.

“Our movements will not be silenced. We dare to dream of a world with freedom, justice, and equality; without tanks and prisons and borders and other oppressive institutions that steal sustenance from the world's majority,” says Rachel Avery, member of AW@L and a music student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. “We will continue to organize against the G8 and G20 leaders and their corporate villains that pillage the earth with industrial projects and profit from war.”

- 30 -

Marika Heinrich 416.301.3583 ;
Rachel Avery 519 616 5549 ;
Ryan White 416.605.3409 ;
Faraz Azad 905.484.0570 .
To arrange further media interviews email or

From the G8/G20 Toronto Community Mobilization.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Black Bloc Action in Guelph

Guelph comrades stand in solidarity with the Black Block...

Personally, i feel kind of unconditionally that the Black Block's activities in Toronto recently were legitimate, regardless of follow up. But in terms of political efficacy, in terms of being "successful" or not, all our activities are vindicated (or not) based on what we and others do next. How we exploit the opening for discussions, conversations, arguments. Burning cop cars are good in and of themselves, but they are truly great when they're a part of a long-term dynamic that entices people to break with the system.

As part of that process, these comrades have made a nice contribution:

(from Toronto Media Co-op)

Militant Black Bloc Action in Guelph.

by Sense of Security

Thursday July 22, 2010
Guelph, Ontario


Despite the current climate of fear tactics, arrests and police intimidation, a group of people in support of those arrested for Black Bloc related charges engaged in direct action which demonstrated the radical spirit of the Black Bloc: handing out sandwiches.

Two people with bandannas covering their faces and clothed in black held a black banner with colorful letters reading “Solidarity Means a Snack” while a number of others, similarly dressed, gave out free food to local downtown residents and bystanders, many of whom stopped to talk and discuss the issues raised by the G20 protests and subsequent crackdowns on activists.

Members of Guelph’s Sense of Security (SOS), a grassroots community organization that provides food, shelter and advocacy for people in need chose to stand in support of the G20 political prisoners in spite of the ongoing repression. “This is a militant Black Bloc action, and we are here in support of people arrested for Black Bloc related charges during the G20. We’re doing this today to show that people who confronted capitalism in the streets are doing it day in and day out in their local communities: serving food, doing needle exchanges, doing harm reduction programs, outreach, advocating, providing food and shelter.”

Far from being a public relations stunt or an attempt to polish their image, they were happy to explain the political reasons behind their actions: “We’re not here saying ‘this is what the Black Bloc should be doing. The point is that this is what the Black Bloc does. The idea that what happened on the 26th was random or non-political is inaccurate bullshit. The word ‘radical’ comes from the Latin ‘radix’, which means ‘root’, and the heart of the Black Bloc is going to the root of what causes poverty: colonialism and capitalism. What people saw during the G20 happens every day on our streets to poor people, people of color, indigenous people, any marginalized community: the reality is that the intent of the so-called ‘justice system’ has nothing to do with justice, that the police don’t serve the people, they brutalize, violate and terrorize with impunity. So, really, who are the real ‘criminal extremists’ here?”

Talking with community members, the SOS and allies found that the majority of people who came up to chat with them were not intimidated by their anonymity. Several related stories of experiences in their home countries and expressed their lost faith in having immigrated to a “free” country, only to find the same old repressive state violence in action. Meanwhile, a heavy police presence was maintained and all downtown public transit was re-routed outside of the streets where the action was taking place, despite the fact that the Guelph SOS serves food on a regular basis in the square, and that no confrontations took place.
In the words of one woman, her face hidden by a pink and black bandanna: “Police violence, criminalizing political and social movements, these aren’t novelties that just magically appeared on June 24th-27th and then disappeared. This is street level reality and it happens every day. And every day, people who believe another world is possible are working, organizing, dreaming and fighting in a diversity of ways to cultivate those movements.”

Their faces may be hidden, but the message is clear: if the billions of dollars wasted during the G20 were intended to scapegoat us into fearful silence, then every cent was a drop in a sea of total failure.

Sandwiches, anyone?

Roger Clement's Bail Hearing Postponed

This just in from Ottawa Movement Defence:

Roger was denied bail previously, and has been preparing for a bail review hearing scheduled for Friday, July 30th. Unfortunately, we were informed today by the Court Reporters office that the transcripts of Roger's original bail hearing will not be ready for July 30th. As this transcript is an essential part of the bail review hearing, his court appearance has been postponed, with a date yet to be determined. Roger and his lawyers are working to secure the early possible date for this hearing, and we will let you know as soon as we can.

To read their entire update/synopsis of the situation of the Ottawa comrades who are facing charges in relation to the April bombing of an RBC branch in that city:


Ottawa Movement Defense
Tuesday, July 27th, 2010


1. Statement to Supporters from Matt and Roger
2. Legal Update
3. Court Support Days
4. Sending Letters of Support to the J18 Defendants
5. No Public/Media Statements
6. Donate to the Legal Fund
7. Hold a Fundraiser
8. Stay Up-To-Date


We would like to thank everyone for their support. It's much appreciated, much needed, and makes in being in prison more bearable. Although adjusting to life in prison is not easy, everything is more or less alright for now.

Of course, we are both hoping to get out on bail. Getting bail is currently what we are focused on, and this should be the priority for folks supporting us on the outside.

Please remember that right now we don't want supporters talking to the media or making public comments about us or our case.

If you'd like to know details on how to best support us at this time, contact Ottawa Movement Defense

In solidarity,
Matt Morgan-Brown, Roger Clement
July 15, 2010


Earlier this month, Claude was released on bail with very restrictive conditions, including a curfew, and a requirement that he reside at a relative's home.

Roger was denied bail previously, and has been preparing for a bail review hearing scheduled for Friday, July 30th. Unfortunately, we were informed today by the Court Reporters office that the transcripts of Roger's original bail hearing will not be ready for July 30th. As this transcript is an essential part of the bail review hearing, his court appearance has been postponed, with a date yet to be determined. Roger and his lawyers are working to secure the early possible date for this hearing, and we will let you know as soon as we can.

Matt Morgan-Brown remains in detention, as well, with his bail hearing set to occur in early August, though no specific date is yet confirmed. While this is a lengthy period of time to wait for a bail hearing, this was a strategic decision by Matt and his lawyer based on other criteria not directly related to this case. We will notify everyone as soon as Matt's bail hearing date is known for certain.


On each of the following days OMD is calling for courtroom support for the J18 defendants. Court support is vital in that it helps ensures the Crown and legal system treat our friends fairly and with due process. It also sends a clear message to the defendants that their friends, family, and co-workers care, miss them, are concerned for their welfare, and want them liberated immediately.

a) Roger Clement Bail Review Hearing: Location/Date TBA
b) Matt Morgan-Brown Bail Hearing: Early August, all day, Courtroom TBA


Matt and Roger are still being detained at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, where they are only allowed two short visits per week. This cuts them off from their wide support networks during this difficult time as they are facing serious charges.

We encourage you to write letters of support to them. Please tell them that you are with them and support their immediate release.

Their mailing addresses are:

Joseph Roger Clement
Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre
2244 Innes Road
Gloucester, ON
K1B 4C4

Matthew Morgan-Brown
Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre
2244 Innes Road
Gloucester, ON
K1B 4C4

Your letters of support will be very much appreciated.


PLEASE NOTE: The June 18th Defendants have asked supporters NOT to make public or media statements at this time.

Please be careful when discussing this situation publicly, including online and to the media, as incautious statements may compromise the ability of the accused to defend themselves in court.

Now that this matter is before the courts, we need to ensure the Crown is able to base its case only on substantive evidence, rather than relying on sensational or incautious public comments.



No matter how friendly or intimidating police may appear, or how clever you think you might be in getting information out of them, nothing good can come of voluntarily talking to the police.

If police contact you, please let us know as soon as possible at


Financial support is crucial right now. We must begin fundraising ongoing legal and support costs, which are already quite significant. In addition to legal fees, there are related support costs accrued by Ottawa Movement Defense. These include such things as collect calls from prison, jail canteen, etc.

To donate to the legal defense fund via PayPal, please follow the below instructions:

1.Go to

2. Type in in the "To" box.

3. Type in your email address in the "From" box

4. Type in Amount and find CAD (Can Dollars) in the menu to the right.

5. Click on the "Personal" Tab and check the button "Gift".

6. Click "Continue".

7. The next page will ask you to either Log In to your paypal account
or sign up for an account. If you sign up for an account, you can link
up your account to your credit card or bank account.

8. For all transactions, there is a charge of 2.2% of the amount +
$0.30. You can decide whether you will pay this amount or the Ottawa
Movement Defense (in which case this amount is deducted from the
amount you are giving).
For other methods, please contact us at


Please consider organising a fundraiser in your city or within your social networks. We really appreciate the fundraisers people have already organised. There are currently more underway!

If you would like to volunteer and help organise with the fundraising subcommittee, please email us

Please let us know if you are organising a fundraiser so we can help get the word out.


If you would like to be added (or removed) from the Ottawa Movement Defense announcements list, please write to us:

The purpose of the announcements list to provide information to the friends and supporters of the June 18th Defendants.


Ottawa Movement Defense is a legal and political support committee for the June 18th Defendants. We take direction from the June 18th defendants. Our support activities include: coordinating visits, fundraising towards legal and support costs, informing friends and supporters of the court proceedings, etc. We do not provide legal advice to the defendants. Currently, we are not making any statements to the media.


Phone: 613 304 8770

Mailing Address:
Ottawa Movement Defense
207 Bank Street
Suite 453
Ottawa, ON
K2P 2N2


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

G20 Activists Still Behind Bars

It may come as a surprise to some, but activist organizers who were arrested during the G20 Summit demonstrations in Toronto are still being held in custody -- for over a month -- while others are finally starting to trickle out of jail.

G20 community organizers Leah Henderson and Alex Hundert were released on bail on July 19, 2010. They learned yesterday that the Crown is appealing their release.

"The appeal of our bail release, like the pre-emptive arrest, is a strong indication of the state's intent to criminalize ideas, dissent, and effective community organizing," says Alex Hundert.

Amanda (Mandy) Hiscocks' bail hearing started on July 26, 2010, and the outcome should come either today or tomorrow. Hiscocks has been held in custody for a month.

Hiscocks, Hundert and Henderson were all arrested for their alleged role as "ringleaders" in regards to their community organizing around the Toronto G20 Summit protests in late June 2010. The three were pre-emptively arrested at gun-point in a house raid on the morning of Saturday June 26, 2010, before the day's protests began.

"The arrest at gunpoint of these three and the delay before bail hearings amounts to the criminalization of dissent. It is not the first time perceived leaders of an action have been jailed for what they were alleged to have said in meetings or demonstrations. I have worked with Leah Henderson, she deserves an award not vilification and arrest," said veteran activist Judy Rebick.

In another example, community organizer SK Hussan was arrested while making his way to the Saturday Labour/NGO/Peace march at Queen's Park where he describes his arrest as being tackled by plain-clothes police officers, thrown into an unmarked police van and essentially disappeared.

They are among 17 accused of various offences; some but not all of whom are also being accused by the Crown of allegedly being on the executive of or associates of the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance (SOAR). The one thing that the defendants have in common is the often amorphous conspiracy charge.

In statement from SOAR in defence of their comrades:

"Our comrades have been targeted for obvious political reasons and are being held on bullshit charges. The "justice" system integral to state power is fundamentally illegitimate and we will not leave our brothers and sisters to fight it alone. And so we will struggle and organize until they are free. We are calling on anarchists and anti-authoritarians everywhere to support us.

"We will support our friends and comrades to our last breath, and show the world that our solidarity is stronger than their terror."

The defendants themselves -- and the community that supports them -- have not wavered in their resolve to fight these chargers, and it sparks in my mind a certain type of anger: how can Canada claim it is a democratic nation when citizens are punished harshly when they exercise their democratic rights? It is that heavy feeling that pushes on the shoulders and tightens the chest when you are made to feel wrong for doing something right.

"It is important for people to continue to raise their voices, and for communities to refuse to let this attempt at silencing be anything more than further inspiration to build the world we believe to be possible -- a world where land and people are valued over profit and power," said Leah Henderson.

From krystalline kraus's blog on

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lone Star Transphobia and Cruelty

Nikki Araguz, transgender wife of a firefighter killed in the line of duty July 4, 2010, gets emotional during a press conference at her attorneys' office Thursday, July 22, 2010 in Houston. Relatives of Thomas Araguz are suing to keep her from getting benefits as Texas does not recognize same-sex weddings. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

Excuse me while i vomit... this woman's husband died and her inlaws are working to have her marriage voided (and thus deprive her of insurance payments) because she had been "born a man", and it seems in Texas the law thinks this means you're always gonna be one, and in TX men can't marry men...

From AP:

Texas mom challenges transgender widow's marriage


HOUSTON — The family of a southeast Texas firefighter killed in a July 4 blaze has sued to void his marriage to his transgender widow and prevent her from getting his death benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn't recognize same-sex marriages.

The attorney for the mother of Thomas Araguz III said Thursday that the firefighter only learned of his wife's gender history and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But a tearful Nikki Araguz said her marriage was not a fraud.

"I'm absolutely devastated about the loss of my husband. I'm horrified at the horrendous allegations accusing me of fraud. They are absolutely not true," Araguz, 35, told reporters during a brief statement at a news conference.

Thomas Araguz died while battling a blaze at an egg farm in Boling, about 55 miles southwest of Houston. The 11-year veteran of the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department was trapped by falling debris in a burning production building.

In a lawsuit filed July 12 in Wharton County, his mother, Simona Longoria, asked to be appointed administrator of her son's estate and that her son's marriage to Nikki Araguz be voided because the couple were members of the same sex.

According to court documents included as part of the lawsuit, Nikki Araguz was born Justin Graham Purdue and changed her name to Nikki Paige Purdue in February 1996.

Voiding the marriage would prevent Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had, with these things only going to her husband's heirs, said Chad Ellis, Longoria's attorney.

A Friday court hearing is planned to determine whether to extend a temporary restraining order granted Longoria that prevents Araguz from receiving insurance or death benefits or having access to bank accounts or property the couple had.

"Nikki is attempting to make a huge money grab," Ellis said.

But Darrell Steidley, one of Araguz's attorneys, said Thomas Araguz was aware his wife had been born a man and that the couple still was living together at the time of his death. The couple had been married for nearly two years.

"We're going to assert her rights as a spouse of a fallen firefighter," Steidley said.

Ellis said his client's efforts to void the marriage are supported by Texas law, specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender.

The ruling upheld a lower court's decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband's death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage, as well as her wrongful death claim, was invalid.

"The law is clear, you are what you are born as," Ellis said.

While Phyllis Frye, one of Nikki Araguz's attorneys, declined to comment on what role the 1999 appellate ruling will play in her client's case, she said the decision "wrecked a lot of lives."

In April, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office was asked to give a legal opinion in a separate case on an issue connected to the 1999 ruling.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal asked for an opinion on whether the county clerk's office could issue a marriage license to two West Texas women if one of the women, who had previously undergone a sex change, presented a birth certificate that identified her as being born a man.

The West Texas couple didn't wait and went to San Antonio, where Bexar County officials granted them a marriage license, saying they relied on the 1999 ruling. Bexar County has previously issued marriage licenses in similar situations.

Abbott's office has yet to issue an opinion.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Night-Vision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain

Night-Vision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain is one of the most important books i distribute. Drawing on the spirit and momentum of the 20th century women's liberation and national liberation movements, Amazon theorist Butch Lee and Red Rover ground these in class, and then proceed to overturn the apple-cart, revealing how at one and the same time the revolutionary movements of the anti-imperialist period were vital and beautiful and essential.... and how their day is past, how the "new reality" of neo-colonialism heralds a more dangerous time, with possibilities and pitfalls we have yet to map out. Learning the lessons of the past means not so much adopting the line and logic of the previous revolutionary era, as de-toxing from them.

What follows is an interview with feminist theorist bell hooks, published in the feminist magazine On the Issues in 1996 (interview also available on the kersplebedeb website).

While supplies last, Night-Vision is available through at the discounted price of $4.95 plus postage. Organizations and reading groups wishing to place a bulk order at even lower rates, please get in touch.

On The Issues

Night-Vision: illuminating war and class on the neo-colonial terrain

“The transformation to a neo-colonial world has only begun, but it promises to be as dramatic, as disorienting a change as was the original European colonial conquest of the human race. Capitalism is again ripping apart and reconstructing the world, and nothing will be the same. Not race, not gender, and certainly not whatever culture you used to have.”

-from the preface of Night-Vision

Once in a while, a book is published that creates a stir below the surface of mainstream discourse. Night-Vision: illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain, by Butch Lee and Red Rover, was published more than two years ago by Vagabond Press. Night-Vision discusses the radical politics born in the '60s when colonialism was dying (the old reality) and suggests that we must develop new theories to cope with the new neo-colonial world in which we now live (the new reality). It has received some remarkable reviews from underground, anarchist and revolutionary newspapers but has been ignored by mainstream feminism. bell hooks read Night-Vision last year and was impressed with much it had to say. She felt that it was an important book which needed to reach a wider audience and agreed to talk with Sally Owen, Book Review Editor of On the Issues, about Night-Vision; neo-colonialism; and class, race, and gender in America today.

OTI: What is it about Night-Vision that impresses you?

bell hooks: Night-Vision was so compelling to me because it has a spirit of militancy which reformist feminism tries to kill because militant feminism is seen as a threat to the liberal bourgeois feminism that just wants to be equal with men. It has that raw, unmediated truth-telling which I think we are going to need in order to deal with the fascism that’s upon us. Anyone who reads this book understands that, globally, women and children are the new proletariat and that white women in the so-called developed countries support the enslavement of lower-class and poor women around the world. That’s an indictment that is hard to hear. But if we really want to talk about the liberation of women, then we’ve got to talk about the investment that bourgeois women of all races have in the social structure.

OTI: It’s interesting that you begin by talking about militancy because I believe the authors feel that it is the militancy in Night-Vision that might most concern you.

I was drawn to the fire in Night-Vision which I hope is also present in my own work. What I am most criticized about is the use of the phrase “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy”. It’s seen as too strident, too exaggerated, too militant. But what that criticism says is that we’re not even allowed to name the enemy. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says we have to call things by their real name, and if we’re not allowed to do that, how can w have a revolution? How do we move forward? I’m not particularly attached to those terms but they seem to me to much more accurately state what we’re up against than a term like “sexism.” And I prefer the term “white supremacy” to “racism.” Part of what is magical to me about Night-Vision is that it situates the discourse within a discussion of colonialism and neo-colonialism, because as much as people resist “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” as an identifier of anything we’re about as a nation, they also don’t want to talk about imperialism and colonialism in relation ship to this nation. And you know, Night-Vision is a real call for white women to be disloyal to patriarchy! It is willing to call white women out on their white supremacy which is often represented as simply a victim response to patriarchy. Night-Vision says that white women have a stake in white supremacy – that it is the hottest, the fastest ticket for white women to get inside the patriarchy and play the game. We can’t act like “daddy made me do it” anymore. It’s all about what white women have to gain. Look how many feminist thinkers have simply abandoned any discussion of fucking male power because it makes men uncomfortable and because we don’t want to act as though men actually do wield power in ways that are detrimental. All the radical, subversive, subjugated knowledge that this book brings to light needs to be heard although I know there are many people who may be really afraid of what it is saying because of what it means for our lives to have to hear it.

OTI: So, when you call people resisting the term “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” you’re talking about middle class people, white people?

bell hooks: Oh, absolutely. When you speak to the disenfranchised and the dispossessed – the people who Night-Vision invokes – they don’t have any trouble hearing you say “white supremacy.” They may tell you that they don’t know what you mean when you say “patriarchy,” but when you put it all together and show how these things are so deeply interdependent, they don’t have any trouble getting it at all. Night-Vision brings together class, race and gender in a way that academic feminist theory gives lip service to but doesn’t manage to convey. To see class, race and gender as not separate is to explode to understanding, but Americans do now want to deal with class and alack Americans no more than anybody else. The fact that we all, as black people, suffer racism is not a levelling factor. We can’t talk about black liberation if we can’t confront gender and sexism. But people continue to say that race, not gender, is the issue and they don’t see how deeply the crisis in Black life in America, so graphically symbolized by O.J. Simpson, is a crisis of race and gender and that we are not going to solve the crisis of race without solving issues around gender.

OTI: I know there are things about this book you don’t like. Would you discuss that?

bell hooks: One of the things about Night-Vision that bugs me is the complete absence of black women’s voices within the text itself. Maybe the authors are white women who have come to these insights by themselves, but I don’t think that any of us do that, and I don’t think it’s useful for us to cut ourselves off from the works of black women. Night-Vision presents itself as the counter-hegemonic vision that has not been stated rather than as a more militant statement of a counter-hegemonic vision that is already in the works of black women and women of colour. By not making that connection, Night-Vision risks another space where black women and white women compete for who has the transformative vision. Night-Vision does, however, make the point that rebellious women have always been central to any kind of major transformation of culture. I was very moved when it talked about Rosa Parks. I always knew that Rosa Parks was chosen by bourgeois, heterosexist black men to be the representative of radicalism. And that obscured the poor working-class black females who had always been part of this movement, who had put their lives on the line and who resisted on those buses. To know things that we don’t consistently document is problematic and there is so much pressure to bury the history of rebellious, revolutionary, and visionary women.

OTI: Night-Vision has received a tremendous reception from young black men in jail. They get it, and they can make the connection. But many women seem reluctant to read this book.

bell hooks: the bulk of letters I get around the militant aspect of my writing are also from young black men, in prison and out. What’s wrong with this picture? Why are black men able to enter this work and be changed in their thinking when so many black women are so guarded about it? Part of it is just the politics of heterosexism. And the tragedy is that women don’t think they have shit to learn from women, although we fall over ourselves to learn from some man whether we’re lesbian, straight, bisexual, or sex radical. Politics in America is seen as hardball terrain, a male thing, especially if we talk about the politics of race. White women have managed to acquire a voice in certain spheres of conservative politics, around health, around economics, but when the media is running around to get its spokesperson on race, that spokesperson will always be male because its seen as a discourse between men. So what is interesting here is that white supremacy has not managed to destroy in young black men heir feeling of having a right to politics. Part of that is that they have images like Malcolm X, a visible, radical, political tradition that can be drawn on, but young black women don’t feel that politics have much o do with them.

OTI: You observed recently that there has not been a powerful, black, female, organized left in this country in the last 20 years.

bell hooks: I felt tremendous regret after that interview because I felt I would be seen as trashing or criticizing Angela Davis. I said that I didn’t know of any occasion where Angela Davis has really tried to galvanize young black women to think about being on the left. There are individual African-American women icons, myself included, who get to occupy a space on the left, and it’s OK to occupy this honorary space, but we should really try to sway young people to move from their conservatism and liberal individualism to a more militant left politic.

OTI: Night-Vision talks about white icons too. I have asked what it is, exactly, that Gloria Steinem has done for women. But when I ask that question, I always feel as though I just pissed on the rug. To ask that question is to commit treason.

bell hooks: I think that it is completely compatible with me asking, with all the respect and love that I feel for Angela Davis, why she has not led a campaign to get black women to become part of the left, and in fact there was a historical moment where she had the power to do that. And to make that observation doesn’t have to be trashing or critiquing. It is to say that collectively, as black women, we have not been willing to assume the mantle of militant leadership and I think that is an interesting question to interrogate. When we make people into icons we don’t feel free to ask what this person is really doing, or what their book is really saying. People should feel free to engage in dissent. Celebrity status is dangerous because it can undermine the radicalism of our work. We all have to be careful where we position ourselves, because we like to think, given our greed, that we can have it all. How successful in relation to their radicalism? I don’t think you can have a radical, subversive, revolutionary critique of this culture and be a millionaire. We have to question how our messages are being transformed.

OTI: One of the things I find so disappointing about the white feminist community is their silence around so many issues. Mumia Abu-Jamal, the death penalty. Individuals, yes, but as a community…

bell hooks: Night-Vision asserts that silence is demanded of us; that there is an inversion of the notion that Silence = Death. We’re being told that the only way we are going to be allowed to survive is to remain silent. You know, I was on the Charlie Rose Show recently with a white man and two black men and was told that white supremacy isn’t real; that it’s a cliché, and that I’m stupid. I want to take that scene and cut it in with the Oklahoma bombing that happened only a couple of months after that and say, “Wake up America! White supremacy is alive and well and willing to kill us.” When they thought they could pin that crime on non-white people, the media were going on and on about the killing of innocent children. Once they found that white patriarchal men had committed this crime, the attention was suddenly away from the slaughter of he innocents, and on facts and details because people wanted to turn a blind eye to fascism expressing itself yet again. It was fascism that bombed those black people in Philadelphia only a few years ago, and there was no uproar that innocent children died in whatever conflict the state was having with that group of people. That people see no link between Clinton’s dismissal of Jocelyn Elders and what happened in Oklahoma is frightening! The white feminist community, in keeping with exactly what Night-Vision says about it, was incapable of coming out in support of Jocelyn Elders. I have no doubt in my mind that if Clinton dismissed Ruth Ginsberg for some completely unclear reason, white women would see this as some assault on feminism and the power of women. But white women are afraid of losing those little tidbits that Clinton throws their way. Where was the call for all feminists to be out in the streets for an hour? I’m so tired of acting like we have to organize some mass thing where we all have to trot to Washington. Why can’t we say, well, at two o’clock on Monday, everyone who opposes Jocelyn Elders being compelled to resign should enter the street. That to me is a way we could demand of the nation’s women who are supposedly committed to feminism some response that doesn’t require putting your life on the line. If feminism could have done for Jocelyn Elders what it was quite capable of doing for Anita Hill who was not making any fucking radical intervention into anything! Who was not subverting anything! And who is still not subverting anything! It just shows you that feminism has chosen to ally itself with the existing social structure. Feminism cannot even mobilize itself as a movement to be one hundred percent against the death penalty. This is the tragedy of left politics for American women because it says we have no courage. There’s a prophetic element to Night-Vision in the way that it foresees what I call the South Africanization of the U.S. and that it will happen precisely because white women will be central to pushing forward an agenda about safety. If we think about those zoning laws around pornography; if we think about how much reformist feminist white women are playing key roles in the ushering in of forms of social apartheid. Those very zoning laws to keep undesirable people out of your neighbourhoods will be the same zoning laws that will lead to gates around City College. And won’t those gates be protecting the ninety percent white faculty in the midst of a student body that is ninety-nine percent not white? Is that not what apartheid has always been about? That level of policing? I think it’s rampant in the culture right now and people are turning their heads and saying it doesn’t’ exist. That’s why the voices that speak in Night-Vision are important voices because it cannot just be black people who call it out because it’s too easy for our voices to be suppressed. If there is not a chorus of voices calling it out, we will not have the space for dissent. I’m very frightened by the closure of independent bookstores, by the breakdown of alternative presses. Where will the dissenting voice speak as the fascism in this culture increasingly grips us? It was exciting to see the Village Voice, a very useless periodical in many ways, call out the white supremacy of publishing, because censorship happens on the level of choices and editing; what gets reviewed and how it gets reviewed. If you review a book like Night-Vision and you act like the authors are crazy, then, in fact, you are exercising a level of censorship that doesn’t have to come from eliminating the voice. Which is why I think censorship right now in the neo-colonial U.S. of A. is a much more dangerous phenomenon than people imagine because it is infinitely more complex and subtle than saying this can’t be published or this can’t be heard. It’s like having a bomb but you’re able to take out the mechanism that lets it explode. So you can still have the vision of free speech when, in fact, you have mediated that speech. And let me reiterate that celebrity status becomes one of the ways dissenting or militant speech is mediated.

OTI: There are middle-class lesbians who perpetuate the myth, in their discourse, in their writing, that we have managed to remove ourselves from the patriarchy; that we are separate, self-sufficient, radical, and in many ways superior to our straight sisters because we have removed men from our lives. This is so obviously untrue and I don’t see a lot of discussion about this.

bell hooks: Don’t you think the biggest lie of our contemporary liberation movements is that who you fuck radicalizes you?

OTI: It’s the biggest lie.

bell hooks: And it also ends up becoming a defense of heterosexism. It says people are incapable of choosing political allegiances, that our political allegiances always come through the body. It’s who we’re fucking or who we’re eating with and our political allegiance doesn’t have to be more complex than that. There’s no doubt in my mind that any person who attempts to live openly as a gay person in this culture encounters the fierce assault of homophobia. But what we should know from the situation of gay people of all colours and black people of all sexual preferences is that simply being a victim does not radicalize your consciousness. If that was the case, we would all be fighting the revolution right now together and he fact is we’re not because people want heir particular form of victimhood to end with caring about what the implications of that are for other people. I think that what’s really happening around the gay rights movement in this culture has become profoundly conservative. Pro-family values. We want to be just like you. We want to get married and have our nice homes. We have to move past the idea that our sexual preferences will radicalize our consciousness. Essentialized identity, whether it is race or sex, sexuality, etc. and the notion that just being the victim of something will enlighten you is also the big lie now. When I said to white women that I didn’t have any fucking sympathy for Anita Hill’s inability to stand up and defend herself, because she could have been taking feminist courses at Yale, I was told she wasn’t to blame. It’s not a question of blame. We can hold her responsible for not choosing to educate herself because it was not in her class interest to do so. She wanted to enter the mainstream ruling upper class in this culture and her silence was not the silence of someone who had not had access to knowledge. Her silence was the silence of complicity. Reformist gender equality brought us to a space where people are more mired in liberal individualism than they are in anything else. And you cannot have revolutionary struggle in that space. What saved radical Vietnam was not liberal individualism but people’s capacity to engage in collective struggle. The thing that most weakened radical political movements in this country was the investment in liberal individualism. That’s why racial integration was essential for the continued colonization of black people because racial integration was really a code word for the indoctrination of black people into the ideology of liberal individualism. Hey, as long as we keep them off the television screen, or only in tragically subordinate positions, they may continue to see that they have something to resist. But if we give them The Cosby Show, if we give them Denzel Washington in Philadelphia, if we give them a sprinkling of images, we can make them feel they have really arrived at the space of freedom. And there’s nothing to resist. Because it’s all about you as an individual. Have you worked hard enough? You too can be rich. You too can be Michael Jordan. You too can be any of the wealthy black people running around not doing shit.

OTI: Do you think there is anything important… let me rephrase that question. What of importance is coming out of the academy?

bell hooks: I don’t have any trouble with the question you ask which is, is anything radical and subversive coming out of the academy? What continues to be subversive about the academy is that the classroom remains a place for education for critical consciousness.

The primary site of genocide for black people right now in America is the public school system. It’s not poverty: Black people have always been poor. Masses of black people are richer today than we’ve ever been in our history in this country. So the question is not a genocide that is rooted simply and solely in poverty, it’s the condition of the poverty. I grew up in the midst of poverty but every black kid that I knew could read and write. We have to talk about the fact that we cannot educate for critical consciousness if we have a group of people who cannot access Fanon, Cabral, or Audre Lorde because they can’t read or write. How did Malcolm X radicalize his consciousness? He did it through books. If you deprive working-class and poor black people of access to reading and writing, you are making them that much farther removed from being a class that can engage in revolutionary resistance.

OTI: Do you see any conflict between women seeking positions of power and that power being firmly based in what you call white supremacist capitalist patriarchy?

bell hooks: Contradiction is the stuff of revolutionary struggle. The point is not to deny the reality of contradiction but to utilize the space of contradiction to come to a greater understanding. I have no trouble with any of us using the wealth we have accumulated within the existing social structure to undermine that structure. I’m much more interested in how you might want to undermine the structure with your resources than criticizing you for the fact that you have inherited resources, or that you have sold out your radical book to be re-made into some bullshit movie. I feel like forgiveness and reclamation and reconciliation are essential to revolution as well. And if nothing else, the tragedy of China and other places should show us the necessity of forgiveness and reclamation and reconciliation – which is to say hat I’m quite happy for us all to begin where we are. And if you have millions, I’m quite happy for you to begin radicalizing yourself around how you can use those millions in a way that will bring greater peace and justice to the world. I’m for that. How can I work within the structure? I just published my new book, Killing Rage: Ending Racism, with a mainstream published because I wanted to reach a mass audience. I really believe that white supremacy is going back to the rampant mass genocide of black people. It’s not just about the death penalty. What about the people who are being brutally assaulted so that they die without the death penalty in American prisons? What about the assault on black people on the street, the assault on the mentally ill, most of whom in New York City are people of colour? How can we not want to infiltrate the mainstream and be subversive if we want to attend to any of this? So the question for me is not the contradictions that involve wishing that I would get a strong, positive review in an uninteresting non-radical periodical like the New York Times. It’s so people will read my book. I’d like to see Night-Vision reviewed in all these mainstream newspapers and magazines because people might read it. And they might come to consciousness. So I think the point is not to think that the contradictions undermine us, but to work with the contradictions in the hope of creating the space of radical opposition; that marginal space within an existing structure where we can continue to fight for freedom.

Other reviews of Night-Vision, also available on the kersplebedeb website:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

China's War on the Poor

BEIJING – The government calls it “sealed management.” China’s capital has started gating and locking some of its lower-income neighborhoods overnight, with police or security checking identification papers around the clock, in a throwback to an older style of control.

It’s Beijing’s latest effort to reduce rising crime often blamed on the millions of rural Chinese migrating to cities for work. The capital’s Communist Party secretary wants the approach promoted citywide. But some state media and experts say the move not only looks bad but imposes another layer of control on the already stigmatized, vulnerable migrants.

So far, gates have sealed off 16 villages in the sprawling southern suburbs, where migrants are attracted to cheaper rents and in some villages outnumber permanent residents 10 to one.

“In some ways, this is like the conflict between Americans and illegal immigrants in the States. The local residents feel threatened by the influx of migrants,” Huang Youqin, an associate professor of geography at the University at Albany in New York who has studied gating and political control in China, said in an e-mail. “The risk is that the government can control people’s private life if it wants to.”

The gated villages are the latest indignity for China’s migrant workers, who already face limited access to schooling and government services and are routinely blamed by city folk for rising crime. Used to the hardship of the farm and the lack of privilege, migrants seem to be taking the new controls in their stride.
Jia Yangui said he accepts the new system as a trade-off for escaping farm work in the northern province of Shanxi. He arrived in Beijing less than two months ago and lives with a relative in one of the gated villages, Dashengzhuang. He sells oily pancakes just inside one of the gates.

“Anyway, it’s not as strict as before, when we migrants would be detained on the way to the toilet,” said Jia’s relative, a middle-aged woman who gave her family name as Zheng.

“Sealed management” looks like this: Gates are placed at the street and alley entrances to the villages, which are collections of walled compounds sprinkled with shops and outdoor vendors. The gates are locked between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., except for one main entrance manned by security guards or police, there to check identification papers. Security guards roam the villages by day.

“Closing up the village benefits everyone,” read one banner which was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.

But some Chinese question whether problems arising from growing gap between the country’s rich and poor can be fixed with locks and surveillance cameras.

“It’s a ridiculous idea!” said Li Wenhua, who does private welfare work with migrant workers in Beijing. “This is definitely not a good long-term strategy. The government should dig up the in-depth causes of crime and improve basic public services such as education and health care to these people.”

Crime has been rising steadily over the past two decades, as China moved from state planning to free markets and Chinese once locked into set jobs began moving around the country for work. Violent crime in China jumped 10 percent last year, with 5.3 million reported cases of homicide, robbery, and rape, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences reported in February.

“Sealed management” was born in the village of Laosanyu during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when the government was eager to control its migrant population. The village used it again during the sensitive 60th anniversary of Communist China last year. Officials then reported the idea to township officials, who decided to make the practice permanent this year.

“Eighty percent of the permanent residents applauded the practice,” said Guo Ruifeng, deputy director of Laosanyu’s village committee. He didn’t say how many migrants approved, though they outnumber the locals by 7,000 to 700.

“Anyway, they should understand that it is all for their safety,” he said. Guards only check papers if they see anything suspicious, he said.

Gating has been an easy and effective way to control population throughout Chinese history, said Huang, the geography professor. In past centuries, some walled cities would impose curfews and close their gates overnight. In the first decades of communist rule, the desire for top-down organization and control showed in work-unit compounds, usually guarded and enclosed.

As the economy has grown, privately run gated communities with their own security have emerged in the biggest cities, catering to well-to-do Chinese and expatriates, offering upscale houses and facilities like pools and gyms.
The new gated villages in Beijing are very different.

“To put it crudely, gated communities in the city are a way for the upper middle-class and urban rich to keep out trespassers, whereas gated villages represent a way for the state to ‘keep in’ or contain the problem of ‘migrant workers’ who live in these villages,” Pow Choon-Pieu, an assistant professor of geography at the National University of Singapore who has studied the issue, said in an e-mail.

Jiang Zhengqing, a supermarket owner in the gated compound of Laosanyu, told the China Daily newspaper in May that he doesn’t even know if he’ll be in business next year because of the drop in customers.

“Before, the streets were crowded with people in the afternoon but now the village is deserted,” he said. “I can’t understand why the government has invested such a large amount of money into putting up these useless fences, rather than repair our dirty public restrooms and bumpy roads.”

from Clandestinenglish blog

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

G20 Theories, Debates, and Slander: Sorting the Mess

Our strategy as anti-capitalists should be to retain and reinforce our differences from both the social-democratic and the right-wing critics of corporate globalization. This means continuing the work many of us are doing, in day to day struggles alongside the classes and nations which are most oppressed by Canadian capitalism. It also means promoting aggressive tactics at demonstrations and emphasizing our hostility to police and to the State, weak points for both the social-democrats and right-wingers.

Finally, it means keeping in mind that not everyone at our protests are our allies, even if they may claim otherwise.

Folks have different takes on what happened, and why, in Toronto during the G20. At issue is how the Black Bloc managed to trash a few cop cars and break countless windows while sustaining so few arrests, and what relation this accomplishment had to the mass arrests and police violence that were subsequently directed at non-Black Bloc demonstrators.

There is some disagreement - but not a lot - about what actually happened on the 26th and afterward. Where there are disagreements is in explaining how and why this happened. For that reason - and because i was not there, so have nothing new to add - i will not go over the events of those days. For those who have not read about them yet, i recommend pages 10-12 in Zig Zag's Fire and Flames: a militant report on Toronto anti-G20 resistance, G20 Capitalism is attacked in the streets of Toronto by Jaggi Singh and Robyn Maynard, or any of numerous news reports about the protests.

Three Versions of How Things Happened

On the left, three versions have emerged to explain the actions of the Black Bloc and the police in Toronto on June 26 and afterwards.

1) The Black Block outmaneuvered the enemy, successfully carrying out attacks on police cars and smashing windows of banks and large corporations due to the tactical advantage it gained from its fluid, undisciplined form.

As one can read on on SnitchWire:
The Black Bloc against the G20 summit in Toronto was one of the fiercest, ruthlessly efficient and effective Blocs seen in North America in a considerable amount of time. This, of course, was brought by the momentum and experience gained by the anarchist movement in North America (under insurmountable odds in most circumstances) within the last fifteen years. Several police cars were set on fire, corporate property destruction and looting were rampant, and the pigs were fought in the street.

Or as comrade Zig Zag has argued:
The ability of the bloc to move quickly enabled it to outmaneuver the riot cops, who were hampered by a slow response time. Wearing up to 80-90 pounds of gear, they could not move fast enough over any distance. Just to get to an area required moving chartered buses or convoys of mini-vans through city streets (not an easy task even under normal traffic conditions).

2) The second theory as to what happened in Toronto is slightly more nuanced, and as such comes in several flavours. Unfortunately, almost all of these are defeatist.

Emphasis is put on the discrepancy between the massive repressive presence - $1 billion spent on security, tens of thousands of police mobilized, extensive pre-summit info gathering, etc. - and the seeming inability of the police to get a handle on the Black Bloc on the 26th.

What emerges is a theory that the police allowed the Black Bloc to do their thing, and may even have facilitated it, in order to be able to justify repression.

As support for this theory, there are numerous anecdotes of people hearing police say that they had orders to hold back. Furthermore, while some eyewitnesses claim they could hear munitions exploding in the burning police cars, others insist that the cars were empty of standard police equipment and had seemingly been left there with their gas tanks almost empty. One activist commented that, based on their experience in previous militant confrontations, "It just seemed too easy."

As the anarchist (but anti-BB) journal Ideas and Action argued:
The noninterference of the police in property destruction – much remarked upon in Toronto – is a clear indication of its utility for the elite. Many observers have noted the usefulness of images of destruction in the media for justifying the $1 billion spent by the city of Toronto on “security” measures. Lest there be any doubt, the Toronto Police Department declared: “All you have to do is turn on the TV and see what’s happening now. Police cars are getting torched, buildings are being vandalized, people are getting beat up, and [so] the so-called ‘intimidating’ police presence is essential to restoring order.”

As the famed author and activist, Naomi Klein, observed, the police strategy consisted of “allowing what happened on Saturday [in Toronto] to happen with almost no intervention; and then… using that inaction as justification for scooping up hundreds of other activists, beating up journalists, just going on a rampage. Now, if they were serious about getting the people who had broken the windows, they would have done the arrests there at the time.”

Or as prominent canadian leftist Judy Rebick claimed:
I disagree with torching police cars and breaking windows and I have been debating these tactics for decades with people who think they accomplish something. But the bigger question here is why the police let it happen and make no mistake the police did let it happen. Why did the police let the city get out of control? And they did let it get out of control. The police knew exactly what would happen and how.

And as progressive journalist Justin Podur claimed:

The point here is that at least through a passive decision, and more likely through active provocation, the police helped see to it that windows and police cars were destroyed. Journalist Joe Wenkoff followed the Black Bloc for 27 blocks without any police presence. A police source told Toronto Sun reporter Joe Warmington that the police had orders to let it happen: “there were guys with equipment to do the job, all standing around looking at each other in disbelief.”

Unfortunately, some who hold this line have opted for a typically social democratic solution to the alleged police conspiracy to enable the Black Bloc: they have publicly criticized the police for not having "done their job" on the 26th!

All of which leads people to stop thinking in terms of solidarity, but instead to think in terms of being "aggrieved citizens". Revolutionary consciousness is pre-empted by the consciousness of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. It's just a hop, skip and a jump from such positions to the odious discussion thread on, where people are urged to turn in photos of "vandals", ostensibly with the logic that by doing so they will be "outing" undercover police officers. Whereas in fact what they are doing through such behaviour is providing evidence to the police. (Woe be it to anyone clean-cut and in shape who was around the Bloc - such individuals are being badjacketed and their photos tossed around the internet as part of the "they-must-be-cops" hysteria.)

3) A third, more obviously rightist version of events, holds that the Black Bloc itself is thoroughly encapsulated - that is to say, controlled by the state, with or without the BB members necessarily knowing it themselves. According to this theory, the Black Bloc is essentially a black ops connected to some secret police agency, deployed by the state to rob "peaceful" protesters of their credibility and deprive them of the moral highground.

This version of events draws on a distorted version of events at the 2007 Montebello protests where three agent provocateurs were identified trying to infiltrate the Black Bloc. In the days between summits, such theories have been the purview of the far right, with sources such as Alex Jones' Prison Planet spreading the idea that the BB and in fact the entire anarchist movement is something between an encapsulated gang and a pseudo-gang, working at the behest of the New World Order.

But following the action on the 26th, even many progressive individuals who would find Jones' politics to be anathema could be found wondering aloud whether or not "their" movement might not have been victim to such a byzantine state maneuver. The conspiratorial/populist website, run by the Center for Research on Globalization, has run a series of pieces with titles like G20 Riots: Is the Black Bloc a Police Psyops Group? As allegations surface of at least one deep cover agent around the broader anarchist scene, with perhaps more to come, this theory may gain added currency, especially amongst those who don't have any personal contact with militant protesters.

The Fallout: "Socialist" Criticism tails Media Backlash

The police attacks on demonstrators who had no intention of breaking the law or engaging in militant confrontation traumatized and angered many progressive people. As in all such situations, the initial reactions were confused, and could vacillate wildly. Folks said stuff they would later regret - not only newbies but also experienced activists speaking in front of television cameras. People were outraged at the police for attacking the "peaceful" protests, and the media worked hard to instill outrage at the "vandals" in the Black Bloc who had apparently provoked it all.

At this point a variety of socialist and trotskyist organizations obviously felt they had an opportunity to score points against the Black Bloc and militant protest tactics, which they have never been happy with but have been politically unable to clamp down on ever since the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

To quote Miguel Figueroa, leader of the soc dem Communist Party of Canada:

“It is high time that the anarchists and their misguided and counter-productive policies be publicly repudiated and condemned. Their infantile antics pose absolutely no threat to the ruling class and its state apparatus,” Figueroa said.

“On the contrary, such actions are extremely harmful in that they scare away the masses of working people from political struggle, and provide a convenient cover to those trying to further curtail the democratic rights of the people.”

The International Marxist Tendency, one of the most conservative trotskyist organizations, whined:
What were the objective results of the black bloc tactics? In the eyes of the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media, the violence of the black bloc delegitimizes the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the labour movement. It justifies the massive security expenditures and aggressive and intimidation tactics of the police. The labour movement can argue against the police presence and plead peaceful protest all they want, but because of the presence and actions of the black bloc, the police can always justify their aggressive presence and brutality. In the end, black bloc tactics justify the police action and brings the wrath of the police down on the labour movement. [...]

The police and the black bloc are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. The police step up security and their presence, causing the black bloc to come up with increasingly bold and inventive ways to circumvent this security, causing the police to step up their presence and attacks on democratic rights. This week, the police were almost daring the black bloc to attempt to penetrate the security perimeter and fence, precisely so the police could physically assault demonstrators and workers, and assault their democratic rights.

And in the IMT's newsletter Fightback: The Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth:
Unfortunately, a “Black Bloc” of one or two hundred was allowed by the police to vandalize the city of Toronto. The police abandoned select cars to allow this mob to torch them. This was then used as justification to attack the mass of peaceful working class protesters. [...] We state that the Black Bloc are not part of our movement and there is no difference between them and police provocateurs. As seen in other protests, some of them may in fact be police agents.
(Need it be added that the IMT considers police unions to be part of their "labour movement"; i.e. see their 2008 piece on cops in the land that murdered Jean Charles de Menezes and so many others: Britain: Bolshevik Bobbies)

The official Socialist Project statement, in their e-newsletter, ironically named The Bullet:
On Saturday, in the midst of a larger demonstration (estimated at between 10-25,000), organized by the labour, anti-privatization and peace movements, a series of unwarranted acts of vandalism by a small number of protesters against stores, vehicles and buildings, was used as an excuse for a massive unleashing of repression and attacks by police against the democratic rights of both protestors, and Torontonians as a whole. (Like what happened at the Montebello Summit of North American leaders in August 2007, it will come out over the next weeks how widely the police had infiltrated some of the key groups -- especially the so-called Black Bloc, knew the planning and participated as agent provocateurs.)

And as Ritch Whyman of the International Socialists argued, in perhaps one of the most intelligent anti-BB pieces: has been noted in many cases, the tactics and politics of the Black Bloc – and some anarchists and some others on the left – leave them prone to being manipulated by the state. In almost every Summit protest, police and others (in Genoa it was also fascists), infiltrate or form their own blocs to engage in provocations. The politics of secrecy and unannounced plans and a quasi-military (amateur at best) approach to demonstrations leave the door open to this.

The tactics also open the door for the justification of further police repression. [...]

[...] outside of a small minority, these actions at best can inspire passive support from those who do not like police. But the majority have no confidence to engage in these actions themselves or agree with them. Instead of giving confidence, the tactics generally produce confusion and play into the hands of the state that would prefer it if no one ever protested. They allow the state to justify its repression and expenditures. In essence outside of an already radicalized minority they don't leave anyone with a deeper sense of confidence about the ability to fight capitalism. Instead at best they leave the impression that the fight against capitalism can only be carried out by a heroic minority, at worst they leave people worrying about going to demonstrations. The tactic is far from radical because it does nothing to challenge capitalism in any way; it does nothing to instil confidence in others to resist.

While the Black Bloc is not above criticism, and a debate about strategies and tactics can always be interesting, to start spewing this shit at a time when people are behind bars, organizers are facing charges which could lead to years in prison, and the media and police are continuing to hype up public anti-BB sentiment, is astounding. You want to talk about strategy? Well, the choice to prioritize such point-scoring speaks volumes of the strategic priorities of the organizations involved. These criticisms, in their timing, are right-opportunist - they are examples of people trying to frame themselves as the "good" and "responsible", as opposed to the "bad", "misguided" or "manipulated" anarchists. Nevertheless, it is not enough to just say so - regardless of the timing or the motives, if we're serious about something, we have to be prepared to answer out critics.

A Bit of History

The various socialist and progressive groups that held hegemony over the canadian left in the 1980s did not tolerate the kind of behaviour they have been moaning about recently. Especially at "peace" demos, to be even slightly rowdy - sometimes even just in the choice of one's slogans - was enough to attract belligerent "peace marshals" who would zoom in on you, if need be pointing you out to cops for arrest or at least harassment. This was not a result of inexperience or ignorance in the movement, but was the preference of an alliance that held the reins, and was not about to let them go if they could avoid it. Non-violent civil disobedience was as radical as you were allowed to get, and even then only in the choreographed manner so aptly derided by Ward Churchill in his book Pacifism as Pathology.

In canada, this left gradually waned throughout the 1990s, as rapid changes on the international scene, neo-liberal austerity programmes (i.e. the Axworthy reforms, and various provincial versions thereof), the 1990 Mohawk uprising and its aftermath, and many other factors eroded the "common sense" position that violence and militant action were somehow uncalled for on the left. A position that large numbers of people had known to be untrue, and that had been particularly unappealing to a younger generation who did not enjoy dynamics that made left-wing demos resemble school outings, complete with monitors, rules, and procedures undemocratically imposed by their elders. (No joke: at their extreme, some "peace" activists in the 80s even spoke of imposing dress codes on younger members, specifically complaining about punks and their "violent" attire!)

To a new generation which - as new generations always do - was providing the most dynamic energy to the left, anarchism was attractive in part because it was not associated with the movement leadership, and with its ties to punk rock and a "no holds barred" ethos, it seemed to be an appropriate antidote to the latter's boring rituals of dissent, their stifling rules about sex and gender, and what seemed to be their legacy of failure and compromise. (That such judgments were unfair and based on exaggerations and misperceptions is of course another aspect of what new generations always do...)

In Toronto, anarchists had become more and more central to new political activism throughout the decade, culminating in the 1988 Survival Gathering, which included a "day of action" riot. But what truly sealed the deal was the rapid rise of a neo-nazi street force focused around the Heritage Front in the 90s (secretly influenced and supported by CSIS, you know), which necessitated a violent, non-symbolic response. While a wide gamut of progressive forces coalesced against the HF, the leading edge was the more and more anarchist-dominated Anti-Racist Action, where groups like the International Socialists with their conservative orientation to politics simply found themselves unwelcome.

In Montreal, similar developments took place throughout the 90s, building on actions organized by the Comite des Sans Emplois, and a series of ad hoc antifascist coalitions (against the Heritage Front, the French National Front, and the right-wing catholic group Human Life International). The first time i believe the Black Bloc marched in Montreal, it comprised of antifascists from Toronto who were participating in the 1993 anti-FN demo. Then following arrests at the anti-HLI demonstration in 1995 that Montreal's Citizens Opposed to Police Brutality (since renamed the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality) was formed. Building on a series of (primarily youth-) riots, a kind of anti-institutional class war anarchism was also developed around the newspaper Demanarchie, and the latter was briefly repressed following the 1996 Quebec City riots, during which the national assembly was set aflame.

On the continental scale, the pivotal event everyone points to is the Black Bloc emerging at the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, two years after the spectacular use of pepper spray against non-violent protesters at the 1997 APEC summit in Vancouver. Seattle made it official: you could no longer impose blanket "non-violence" on the left - not even on the relatively privileged white left. A militant practice that had been nurtured and developed in specific cities and scenes, often within the antifascist movement, was now introduced as an essential element of the "new" antiglobalization movement.

As Xtn of Chicago ARA would later recall:
the Battle of Seattle grabbed everyone's attention and made us sit up. Images of thousands of protesters clogging the streets of downtown Seattle were broadcast on every television across the world - so too were scenes of the Black Bloc and the attacks on capitalist property and police. Newspapers were scrambling for info on the new street militants and their ideology of anarchism. And debate started to rage in the radical press. The Black Bloc was seen by some as wrongheaded youth interested only in adventurism. Sometimes the Black Bloc was condemned outright and treated as criminal - an attitude that rolled in from the established Left. [...]

The actions by the Black Bloc and anarchists turned traditional politics on its head. The black-clad voice in the protest movement wasn't content to beg the politicians and capitalists for reforms. The Black Bloc symbolized a new generation of activists wanting nothing short of revolution. (Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement, pp. 2-3)

This is about when i first started hearing about "diversity of tactics", and while i could be wrong, it struck me at the time as a face-saving compromise. Under the watchword of "diversity" anarchists and other radical factions signaled their willingness to work alongside people who vehemently disagreed with illegal tactics, without forcing the point - and the latter were given an open invitation to join with us, and a fig-leaf to hide behind when things got heavy. So contradictions lay behind this new catchphrase.

This "diversity" was always being challenged and renegotiated, but one thing it did prove was that the leftover leaders of the previous decades' movement were aware that they could not unilaterally impose their tactical preferences. They had been unable to maintain (never mind expand) their own base, so they needed the energy and dynamism of the more militant, younger activists, no matter how distasteful these might be.

In this light, the statements of social democrats, trots, socialists, and others about the Black Bloc, are a part of a long debate, a long and constant process of negotiation and renegotiation. Their timing in exploiting this fig leaf may suck, but we shouldn't feel too betrayed.

At bottom, as noted by Ritch Whyman of the International Socialists, these tactical disagreements represent different strategies. But we shouldn't trust him to characterize what these differences are. Instead, we should do some thinking of our own - when we do, we can see that in fact the arguments being put forward by the socialist left flow not only from differences in strategy, but from different ways of looking at the world. The Black Bloc, and similar tactics, do not make sense from their point of view, and with good reason. Where they hope to go, this kind of militant practice is indeed counterproductive. Rather than build a movement separate from the State, self-reliant and prepared for the heightened levels of violence that we see coming, the vision that unites most of these detractors is one of gaining influence within various institutions already somewhat integrated into the State - the "labour movement" (by which they mean the trade unions and the NDP), various NGOs, and recognized progressive lobby groups.

When the IMT bemoans the fact that "In the eyes of the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media, the violence of the black bloc delegitimizes the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the labour movement," partly they chose an unfortunate way to phrase their concerns, but partly, like a Freudian slip, there is truth behind this embarassing outburst: key to their strategy is the goal of being seen as legitimate by "the state, the politicians, and their mouthpieces in the media." Or if they can't be, then they hope to hold key positions in organizations (the NDP, the trade unions, etc.) which are. This is not an exaggeration: the most craven examples of the entryist tradition, the IMT stands out from the pack by its continued position in Britain (its home base) of working within the Labour party. For folks like this, by smashing things up, the Black Bloc can indeed upset their entryist fantasy.

When groups like the IMT and the IS talk about mobilizing a "mass movement", they essentially want masses of people to swell their ranks - or the ranks of the institutions they have infiltrated - without essentially challenging the consciousness or way-of-life as experienced under capitalism more generally. They would like a chain-of-command for protests, with the bulk of people passively attending events organized by them - or ideally by coalitions of forces in which they will have a critical voice. That they so rarely get what they want is testimony to the failures of their style of "coalition building"/united front/entryism (which generally leaves everyone from militants to liberals feeling used and disrespected), and also the way in which their kind of micromanagement leads to less dynamic and more dull events.

In their criticism that the Black Bloc is "undemocratic", these groups posit an abstract and unified "working class" as counterposed to any specific offensive organizations or innovations that might "alienate the masses". Like some anarchist anti-vanguardist strawmen, this argument ignores the ways in which the organizations and initiatives of oppressed people are (like everything real) flawed and impure, and only appealing to some people, sometimes only a very few at first. These critics feel that instead of working with and supporting such particular expressions of resistance, they should be condemned out of hand for not representing the abstract and incorporeal "masses".

Socialists and other progressives often agree with us that capitalism is becoming more and more brutal, and that as people's living conditions become more difficult life is getting a whole lot shittier. Like some of us, they see value in defending social infrastructure, legislation, trade unions and other aspects of the 20th century welfare state. But where they clearly take a wrong turn is that this seems to be their only plan, in practice if not in theory. And to this end alliances with "progressive" forces - some of which are not really very progressive at all - are key to their entire strategy, even though they obviously have no chance of radicalizing these "allies". A rearguard action with no exit strategy.

Socialist politics is for them a holding pattern, at best a game of getting your group to have influence amongst the right people or in the right institutions (generally trade unions or the NDP, sometimes broad "progressive" coalitions active around some issue). The only hope for their much-vaunted mass movement fantasy is if some external factor will come along to push people to become interested in left politics - at which point i guess the idea is that the group with the most spotless resume and the "correct line" will be well-placed to suddenly gain a broad hearing and wield an influence far beyond its small numbers. (They steadfastly refuse to consider the possibility that external factors might push many people to the right, not the left, or to consider what kind of strategies would be needed in such an eventuality.)

In the meantime, it remains vital to not "alienate" the wrong people - which translates into not doing anything risky, anything that will provoke a strong reaction or challenge people's preconceptions of what is right or acceptable.

Despite their criticisms of the Black Bloc, they don't "movement-build" themselves, or at least not in the way that we understand the term. They merely engage in a perpetual hunt for "allies", all the while sucking in a certain number of students to join and maintain their organizations, the majority of whom will leave after a few semesters, some disillusioned, others well-groomed for careers in the sinking ship of social democratic politics.

What's It Good For? Speakin' 'bout My Friends

The Black Bloc is a form of political-cultural intervention, and in my opinion a positive one. Its tactics, while overwhelmingly symbolic, embrace a willingness to break the law, and a vision of an autonomous movement or movements that do not depend on the State for their "right to protest". It can expand the space for other forms of activism, and provides a potential avenue of attack against the State's hegemony (in the Gramscian sense of the term). Potentially, it is a complement to - or, for some people, a beginning of - counter-power.

At the anti-capitalist May 1st demonstration in Montreal earlier this year there was no Black Bloc. The police were trying to intimidate people, roughing them up, confiscating banners, searching bags. At one point they tried to arrest a young man - he was wedged in between two cops on horses, while others stood around, batons out and ready to strike. Personally, i was terrified about what might happen to him.  But the crowd would have none of it, and i saw a woman comrade physically intervene, unarresting the young man as the crowd engaged in and withstood a shoving match with cops, and a very intimidating large police dog.

The people who were able to - non-violently but forcefully - rescue this man from what seemed to me to be certain arrest, did not fall from the sky. They were not born with these skills, with this willingness to potentially engage in a fight with cops. They weren't karate experts or super-heroes or anarcho-ninjas. These skills are something they learned, and i know where many of the individuals in question did so: in precisely the kind of militant confrontations, often under the banner of the Black Bloc, that some people would like to see ejected from the movement.

Again: from the socialist, social democratic, and many trot points of view such skills are simply not necessary. Just not a part of how they envision taking power. While they may acknowledge a need for occasional violence, that's what the trade union security is there for, no need for members of the "vanguard" to dirty their hands with such things. It is telling that on June 26th members of the International Socialists stood side by side with members of the Canadian Labor Congress as marshals separating people from the cops protecting the security fence - they were faced off against the protesters, not the riot squad, yet another indicator of who the IS would be using force against, if it came down to it.

Even those trot groups that do show some sympathy to the Black Bloc - i.e. the sparts and the IBT - do so from a patronizing perspective of the mature "teachers" observing the "confused" youth (they always say these groups are all youth) whose desperation and weakness leads them to adopt such tactics.

For instance, although the IBT take the IMT to task for the latter's unprincipled attacks on the Black Bloc, their position remains that:
Marxists do not advocate the tactics of the Black Bloc because, however emotionally fulfilling for the individuals involved, they are at bottom an expression of frustration by powerless and socially isolated (if personally courageous) militants. Their focus on striking symbolic blows against the oppressors is conditioned by the absence of a mass working-class movement with a level of political consciousness sufficient to potentially overturn capitalist rule.

At their best, these comrades mistake a step in the right direction for the pathos of everyday life under capitalism.

Against this i'd say that, as an experiment, as a technique, the Black Bloc is worth engaging in. It may not be the do-all and end-all, but it represents a positive attempt to push things in an interesting direction. There are many situations where it would be counterproductive, and participants seem to have no problem realizing this and protesting "just like everyone else" on countless other occasions. But when used it will inevitably put questions on the table that - while irrelevant to their left - are central to ours.

Defensive Triumphalism: Speaking to My Friends

i was not at the G20 protests. In a sense, this puts me ahead of the pack in following that established left tradition, of not letting facts stand in the way of a good argument. A practice that normally indicates some kind of dishonesty, but a condition which - at this point in the discussion - characterizes us all. And reminding ourselves of this, that whether one watched the protests on tv, via the web, or whether one was smashing windows and running from cops, it is too early to gauge the "success" or "failure" of the police actions, or even of our own.

It is understandable to be angry and somewhat defensive given how our "allies" in the socialist and trot camps engaged in their full court press following the 26th. That said, it's important to remember that the Black Bloc is a component of our movement, not the other way around, and that our movement is aiming to challenge worldwide capitalism, not just its social democratic pals and its socialist critics.

Many people seem to feel that if the cops left their cars to be burned, or if they allowed property destruction to be carried out, that that discredited the actions of the Black Bloc. This belief seems to be shared by pro-BB and anti-BB voices alike, and so people's versions of what took place and why on the 26th seem to be largely ideologically-driven, everyone promoting the theory that makes "their side" look best.

This is unfortunate, because we can't know as of yet exactly how the State managed (or failed to manage) the protests on the 26th, and whether or not a tactic is legitimate and useful only partially depends on whether the enemy deploys countermeasures. Tying oneself too tightly to the concept that "we're fluid and free so we out-maneuvered, out-ran, and out-thought the cops" begs the question of how one will respond if - as is entirely possible - it is revealed that police were not as clueless as all that.

Furthermore, it equates the Black Bloc's effectiveness with military success, while failing to appreciate the degree to which this is both constrained and permitted by political factors. While a revolutionary movement needs to constantly challenge itself, ruthlessly re-examining its tactics and preparing for the worst, triumphalism is self-congratulatory, and doesn't lead to any conclusions other than perhaps "do more, do bigger". The Black Bloc ceases to be a tactic grounded in particular conditions, one we can use at the present historic juncture while building for better things (and worse days) ahead, and instead simply becomes good enough to leave alone.

Similarly - like the conspiracy theorists - such triumphalism requires forgetting that the State had several objectives, and preventing the Bloc from doing its thing wasn't necessarily #1. World leaders were arriving on the 26th, and there were motorcades throughout the city - making sure nothing happened to these criminals was certainly the highest priority of the cops' list, and in that they succeeded. It's not like the 20,000-strong security force was all there in order to vamp on the Bloc, they had other things in mind too. Three cop cars given or taken was not really the point.

Even if the police were caught completely off guard by the Bloc, the arguments put forward in some quarters suggest that they never would try to manipulate us or use us for political ends. That for them, the military confrontation with the Black Bloc is all that counts - which is really silly when you think of it, as they could wipe us out in one long weekend if the military was not subservient to the political. We do have to acknowledge that under certain circumstances, the police could try to exploit the knowledge that a Bloc would be active, for political purposes. That doesn't mean that's what happened in Toronto on the 26th, but it does mean that - in our own interests, as well as in the interests of democratic dialog - raising the question does not mean one has crossed the line and become a class enemy.

Movement history is replete with examples of the state allowing revolutionary organizations to develop, even to carry out offensive activities, preferring to keep them under wraps, under control, or at least knowing roughly who might be doing what. To this day there is still a question of whether or not the police watched as the Wimmin's Fire Brigade torched those porn stores back in the 80s, and there is evidence that the RCMP was keeping tabs on certain FLQ cells as they carried out their activities. i am not stating that the Bloc is encapsulated, just that we should not shrug off the question of what the State's strategy is as if it were irrelevant. While there is not much chance of our being outmaneuvered by our trot critics, the same is not true for the State, which has plans inside of plans and which can easily think in terms of of years or decades.

Questioning how the Black Bloc sustained so few arrests, examining the possibility of infiltration, and trying to learn as much as possible about the State's countermeasures - both military and political - strike me as essential components to further developing and advancing the Black Bloc tactic in North America.

It doesn't mean not setting their cars on fire, it just means keeping your spidey-sense on, keeping an eye out for traps, and an open mind about why things might sometimes "seem too easy".