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Black Bloc For Dummies

by Mid-Atlantic Infoshop Saturday, Aug. 19, 2000 at 4:10 AM

Everything you ever wanted to know about anarchist black blocs, but we're afraid to ask...

What is a Black Bloc?

A black bloc is a collection of anarchists and anarchist affinity groups that get together for a particular protest action.The flavor of the blackbloc changes from action to action, but the main goals are to provide solidarity in the face of a repressive police state and to convey an anarchist critique of whatever is being protested that day.

Is the black bloc an organization?

Some people are under the mistaken impression that one can join the "black bloc organization." There is no standing black bloc organization between protests. There is the anarchist movement which always exists (and has been around for over a century). You can think of the black bloc as just a temporary collection of anarchists that represent a contingent in a protest march.

Why a black bloc?

There are several reasons why some anarchists do black blocs at demos. These reasons include: 1) solidarity - a massvie number of anarchists provides cover against police repression and it demonstrates the principles of working class solidarity; 2) visibility - the black bloc as gay pride march; 3) ideas - a way to present an anarchist critique of the protest du jour; 4) mutual aid and free association - provides a visual example of how affinity groups can come together in a larger group and articulate common goals; and 5) escalation - a method for ratcheting up a protest movement so that it goes beyond mere reformism and appeals to the state to remedy injustice.

Where did the black bloc idea originate from?

Black blocs in North America originated around the time of the Gulf War (1991). They took their inspiration from the Autonomen movement in Germany which existed throughout the 1980s. This movement was known for its street battles with the police, but also for posing a radical alternative to the existing protest movements.

What are some examples of past black blocs in North America?

The black bloc wasn't invented in Seattle last December. There have been numerous black blocs at demos throughout the 1990s. One of the biggest was last year's black bloc at Millions4Mumia, which numbered around 1500-2000. This was a good example of a nonviolent black bloc whose purpose to show solidarity for Mumia Abu-Jamal and to remind the Leftists in the movement that they shouldn't take us for granted (in fact several post-M4M articles in the Left press completely ignored the anarchist presence at Millions 4 Mumia).

A brief listing of notable black blocs

1992- Washington, DC - Black bloc during anti-Gulf War Protest. Windows of World Bank smashed.

1992 - San Francisco - Columbus Day - BB marches to protest 500 years of First Nations genocide.

1999 - April 24 - Philadelphia - 1500-2000 anarchists march in black bloc during Millions 4 Mumia march.

1999 - November 30 - Seattle - Black Bloc engages in some "anarchist shopping" in downtown business district

2000 - April 16 & 17 - Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc (RACB) at the A16 anti-IMF/World Bank protests in Washington, DC. Around 700-1000 participated on A16

2000 - May Day (May 1) - Black blocs in New York City, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon. The New York black bloc takes several pre-emptive arrests.

2000 - August 1 - Philadelphia - Street actions during GOP convention

Do all black blocs do property destruction?

It depends. The black bloc that marched in Seattle during the N30 anti-WTO protests is the one that put black blocs on the national radar. They engaged in a variety of activites including property destruction.This was not mindless and adolescent vandalism--it was done for political reasons. By the way, not all members of the N30 black bloc were from Eugene Oregon. If you have more questions about anarchists at the Seattle protests, see our special FAQ.

Why do black bloc members wear masks?

Over the past year there have been quite a few naive liberal calls for anarchists to take off their masks. In fact, there are many black bloc anarchists who don't wear masks during blocs. These are usually the folks who are "out of the closet," so to speak. Anarchists wear masks for many reasons. The main one is the recognition that the police videotape activists and keep files on them. The police do this even when there are laws against it (see red squads). Masks promote anonymity and egalitarianism. They also protect the identities of those who want to engage in illegal acts and escape to fight another day.

What are some typical black bloc tactics?

Tactics vary from black bloc to black bloc. Some common ones include unarresting and arm-linking. Unarresting is where the bloc frees people who don't want to be arrested. This usually works if you outnumber the cops. It also works because most cops are shocked that activists would try and free someone. Arm linking, or locking, helps a bloc maintain cohesion and makes it harder for the police to disperse members. It's kind of like a police formation, although more fluid and organic.

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