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Whoever Doesn't Really Try, Consents.

by Guerilla Science Monday, Aug. 01, 2005 at 4:07 PM

Mass symbolic, sanctioned marches that do nothing to actually change the status quo serve as painless absolution rituals, that allow the participants to “bear witness”, to “speak truth to power” and to “wash their hands of the blood of empire.” Marches, with their biting satire and snazzy costumes, do not provide a real means for stopping the carnage they deplore. A “functioning” democracy needs some form of sanctioned, orderly protest to stimulate discussion, and if the current regime were really “that bad” they wouldn’t allow big demonstrations, right? Ineffective activism, like regulated marches, actually provides a façade of healthy interchange and is welcomed by the status quo. The majority of demonstrators are aware well in advance that their actions will likely have no tangible effect on the negative of the empire, but they go to a huge rally and can sleep better at night having chanted out their guilt. Just as it can be said qui tacet consentive videtu (whoever is silent consents) it can also be said “whoever doesn’t really try, consents.”

Whoever Doesn't Really Try, Consents. By Dan Zarrella
Published by The Guerilla Science Press

Mass symbolic, sanctioned marches that do nothing to actually change the status quo serve as painless absolution rituals, that allow the participants to "bear witness", to "speak truth to power" and to "wash their hands of the blood of empire." Marches, with their biting satire and snazzy costumes, do not provide a real means for stopping the carnage they deplore. A "functioning" democracy needs some form of sanctioned, orderly protest to stimulate discussion, and if the current regime were really "that bad" they wouldn't allow big demonstrations, right? Ineffective activism, like regulated marches, actually provides a façade of healthy interchange and is welcomed by the status quo. The majority of demonstrators are aware well in advance that their actions will likely have no tangible effect on the negative of the empire, but they go to a huge rally and can sleep better at night having chanted out their guilt. Just as it can be said qui tacet consentive videtu (whoever is silent consents) it can also be said "whoever doesn't really try, consents."

I'm not going to attempt to convince the reader that U.S. imperialism exists and is a deadly policy, because frankly if you aren't aware of that at this midnight hour it would take the bulk of this critique for me to change your mind (if I was ever even able to do that). I'm speaking to that loose collective of people who already understand the need to save the world from American neo-colonialism, and I expect that the huge majority of people who will read this will already be a member of that group. Limiting my audience like this allows me to define the goal of an "effective" resistance as the end of the physical, financial and environmental violence of the military-industrial complex. If we agree that the problem of empire and its attendant violence is systematic and cannot be reformed, we also agree that the ultimate goal of the resistance should be revolutionary change: the complete eradication of the murderous system of global capitalism. To discuss the necessity of revolutionary change without debating the merits of reformist actions may appear to be putting the carriage before the horse, but again I'm choosing to limit my audience in the interest of focus.

The next logical step in my analysis of anti-neo-colonial tactics is to understand the criterion by which the effectiveness of resistance tactics can be judged. In this, it is important to differentiate tactics that are impotent by design and those may be effective but have failed in specific instances. If we accept the aforementioned goal of the anti-imperial resistance, we can thus also accept the assertion that a successful action is one which either directly or indirectly obstructs business as usual in the empire, prevents the forces of neo-colonialism from expanding or maintaining their conquered territory, contributes to the destruction of the empire, or encourages others to engage in actions such as these. We must remember that while this last goal is equally as important as the others (because of its ability to increase the resistance exponentially), an easy problem to fall victim to is to create a "movement" that does nothing other than recruit. There are plenty of effective tactics that can be undertaken by individuals or small groups, and to put off organizing and executing these actions until the resistance has an overwhelming majority is to wait for something that will never happen - at least not until it appears we are winning. As we will note later, movements of impressive size and power are almost always motivated through the potent actions of a small minority.

Most actions that are ineffective by design are symbolic, and even in the most successful instances of symbolic resistance, the real power of the tactic came from the direct impact the popular reaction and led to little more than a few reformist concessions. The morality of symbolic actions in a time when the heaps of dead the empire is leaving around the globe are anything but symbolic, speaks for itself. The primary redeeming quality of symbolic tactics is the ability to make people question the status quo and, ideally, join the resistance, either by indicating the problem or demonstrating that fighting back is possible. When the vanguard groups of the old left attempt to argue that the vast majority of permitted marches and demonstration rallies do in fact meet this "recruiting" criteria of effectiveness, we must remember the difference between actions that really increase the resistance, and those that function as little more than "bearing witness" (seeking absolution simply by publicly washing your hands of the blood does nothing to save anyone's life and so is nothing but selfish). A big state-sanctioned march is useful as an uplifting or comforting experience for those involved (especially the organizers), but for the most part actions like these preach solely to the choir. While they may occasionally receive mass media attention outside of the usual activist circles, they almost never create any new popular reactions through which the numerical or intellectual strength of the resistance may be substantially increased. This is not to denigrate the importance or value of such tactics, but merely to indicate that they are not effective tactics of resistance by way of recruiting.

Gandhi's Salt March in 1930 is one of the earliest, most celebrated acts of non-violent civil disobedience. After a twenty-three day march to the seashore, Gandhi bent down, picked up a handful of mud and sand, boiled it in seawater, and thereby illegally bypassed Britain's monopoly on salt production - an offense Gandhi would later be arrested for. The true power of this protest was to be found not in what he had done as an individual that day, but in the popular reaction: thousands of Indians began to illegally manufacture and sell salt (an extremely lucrative commodity that was required by most people in India, especially rural farmers working in the heat). This was a direct blow to one of the most important financial pillars of English imperialism in India and was supported by widespread boycotts on other British goods in the colony. The Salt March protest formed such a dangerous problem economically for the colonial powers that by the end of the month over sixty thousand people were incarcerated for their involvement in the action. It is obvious in this case that the symbolism was merely the spark that started a wave of direct action. This popular reaction was where the strength of real resistance resided. Critics of Gandhi will argue that even after the effects of the Salt March forced the British to hold a conference to explore the Indian congress's demand for independence, nothing substantial was achieved because the negotiations solved nothing.

Another commonly cited example of effective symbolic action was in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery public bus. Again in this case this "symbolic" action was only the spark; the true threat to the status quo was the enormous city-wide boycott of the public bus system that followed, and lasted for over a year. The economic damage was so severe that segregationists tried to use the legal system to stifle both the organizers of the boycott and the "private taxi" system that emerged to allow boycotters to get to and from work. Eventually opponents of the boycott resorted to violence, bombing one of the organizers', Martin Luther King Jr.'s, house. In the end, the activists' demands were met when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were un-constitutional.

In February 1960, four well-dressed students at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro started a wave of viral sit-in protests at segregated lunch counters that by 1971 had spread to over seventy thousand protestors and resulted in over three thousand arrests. The symbolic action of the courteous activists is widely credited as popularizing the use of sit-ins as a non-violent integration tactic. Perhaps more importantly was the effect it had on previously moderate and often uninterested people. After witnessing the upstanding and respectable students engaged in lunch counter sit-ins and the violent uncouth opposition they faced, many moderate individuals were inclined to join the struggle for civil rights. One of the first things this new wave of concerned citizens did was join in nation-wide boycotts of companies that were segregated in the South. This struggle eventually led to the integration of lunch counters and other public places.

In more recent history, symbolic actions have taken the form of mass mobilizations and marches, the most famous and possibly the most successful of which was the "Battle of Seattle" against the WTO meetings in November of 1999. While the media played their normal sensationalist game and focused heavily on the property destruction done to corporate targets by the black bloc, other civil disobedience activists actually managed to shut down some of the opening ceremonys, winning one of the largest victories for the resistance in the entire meeting series. Perhaps, however, a more lasting effect of these protests was the issue of property destruction as violence. These WTO meetings saw the emergence of a new kind of anarchist resistance tactic: the Black Bloc, a group of masked and black-clad activists who took it upon themselves to inflict minor symbolic financial damage in the form of broken windows of various corporate storefronts, most notably Starbucks. While the police were largely unable to contain the dynamic Black Bloc, many protestors promoted themselves to the level of corporate defenders, and either placed themselves between the windows and the anarchists, or actually went so far as to physically accost those trying to smash the corporate state in a slightly less symbolic fashion. The larger crowd demonstrated their misinterpretation of the ideals of property destruction by chanting "No violence, no violence" at the window-smashers, and thus was born a major schism in the activist community. The obvious question to raise here, (Ward Churchill has done it often in many ways), is: why were these pro-Starbucks protesters willing to put their bodies in harm's way to protect corporate windows when they would never dream of doing the same to protect an elderly woman's head from the baton of a riot cop? Did these self-appointed peace marshals consider protecting a Starbucks more moral than protecting a fellow protester, or was it just safer to be on the corporation-state's side?

The largest worldwide day of protest took place on February 15th, 2003 when more than ten million people gathered around the world to express their unhappiness with the impending war on Iraq and to bear moral witness to the atrocities that were about to be committed, publicly and symbolically washing their hands of the innocent blood that was going to be shed. These were weekend protests, largely sanctioned by the authorities, and most remained remarkably peaceful and orderly, especially on the part of the protesters. Scattered incidents of police violence were reported as usual, raging from tear gas to police horse charges. These actions were not designed to interrupt business as usual or provide any direct interference or damage to the system that was about to murder countless innocent victims; on the contrary, they were exactly the kind of peaceful and gentle demonstrations that those in power consistently call for and regard as the most civil way of expressing dissent. Other than getting some media coverage of the colorful costumes and clever satire (which was surprisingly quiet considering the fact that this was the largest international protest ever), these gatherings did nothing to stop the war. The forces of empire did not feel sufficiently threatened to have had to resort to more repressive crowd control measures to ensure the ineffectiveness of these actions; the impotence of the protests was scripted in from the earliest stages of planning.

The 2004 Republican National Convention protests were marked by a number of record-sized events: the largest Critical Mass bike ride in NYC (which has prompted the beginning of New York City police repression against the ride since the convention), one of the largest single days of protest in NYC (500,000 people in one huge column marching past Madison Square Garden in a weekend march on the 29th), and the largest number of arrests at a political convention in United States history (the majority arrested on the 31st, a day designated for civil disobedience). The media coverage of this event has, predictably, focused on the 1,800-odd arrests, most of which were made shortly after the various actions started and then led to the arrestees spending upwards of 30 or more hours in a toxic, condemned bus depot and in various jail cells in Manhattan. The goal of the mass civil disobedience on Tuesday was to disrupt business as usual in general, and to interfere with the convention specifically, as contrasted with the mass absolution the participants in Sunday's giant symbolic march were looking to obtain. They wished to spell out their discontent with the genocidal policies of the Republicans' wars of empire, but they ignored the fact that the Democratic party was equally guilty of espousing the imperialist agenda, and didn't protest the DNC. However, in all but a very select few instances no major disruption was caused on A31; for the most part the police were totally prepared for the actions and the activists played right into their hands. Even in the less scripted "spontaneous" street-party style actions (as opposed to the die-in actions) the protesters did very little to resist arrest and were mostly herded with orange roll-out fencing like good little sheep. In actions like, these the participants accept that they are going to be arrested and the police arrest them easily, as part of the agreement of how civil disobedience should work, to provide as little trouble for the powers that be as possible. For our part, those arrested on A31 helped the cops ensure that this was the case.

There is a paradigm in evaluating a range of tactical choices that greatly limits most large-scale (and especially symbolic) demonstrations (of course this debate is only occurring in places that aren't already under the imperial axe and have the luxury to consider pacifism). The crux of the illogicality that most "non-violent" critique presents is due to a mis-definition of the idea of violence. For moral, logical and tactical reasons, violence should be understood as the initiation of repressive force, whether physically, socially, or economically. The financial violence of classism begets violence in low-income communities, and given the sheer number of victims, we should recognize the economic violence as a cause of many of the other problems. Adherence to a policy of non-violence should not be misconstrued as something that avoids the violence of the empire; if you become a dangerous threat to its power you will be dealt a blow of equal violence if you are a pacifist or a supporter of self-defense.

If we can agree on this definition of violence in the term "non-violence," then we can easily understand that self-defense is not violence, at least not in a moral or tactical sense. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both advocated suppressing our natural self-defense mechanism (at least in the immediate self-preserving physical sense) for two reasons: moral and tactical. It is a strict and unnatural moral code (and some would argue a senseless one) that frames self-defense as immoral; on the other hand, the tactical considerations consisted mostly of capturing the public's imagination as a valiant martyr on the six o'clock news. By now mass media has carried countless images of these kinds of brave suffering protesters to nothing more than vapid stares for too long, and we must not underestimate the People. It is widely agreed up that most if not all politicians are corrupt, and that to protect their bosses sometimes the police resort to brutality. It would be naïve to think that more video footage of non-violent protesters getting beaten would "wake" us up to this fact and make us want to do something about it. We are paralyzed by the feeling of domination the sheer power and weight the establishment can wield; it is more effective in today's world to show each other that we leave the victim/martyr game behind and joyfully smash the state.

The concept of smashing the state brings us to my next point: property destruction as non-violence. From a Proudhon-thumping anarchist point of view this is an easy assertion to agree with, but perhaps a more widely acceptable and understandable anti-capitalist framing of this issue comes with the idea of property destruction as self-defense. If we understand that the empire is constantly waging a class war with their financial weapons against the working classes, the image of a smashed Starbucks window as a strike back against the attacker becomes clear. Not only can this sort of action provide a small (and in most cases, practicality only symbolic) amount of economic damages to their targets, but it can manifest itself in other, less perceptible ways, not the least of which is as an empowering message to other activists, letting them know that they to can "take matters into their own hands."

The problem with most small Black Bloc-type property destruction actions is that they are, in the bigger picture and the longer run, not very effective, especially in contract with the amount of risk assumed by the participants. The actual economic damage done to the targets is largely minuscule, and perhaps a day or two at most of business as usual is interrupted. As can be said about the public's desensitization to protesters suffering willingly at the hands of the riot cops, so can be said of its reaction to masked and black-clad roving rioters. We've seen all we can on TV, and no matter if it was real or fake, we've lost touch as a population to its human counterpart; nothing will reach us through the television to catalyze the resistance; we must focus on what effect we can actually have on real human needs. Agit-prop was an important tool to reach people, but again at this late stage in the game there are enough people who understand the problem to fix; it is now a matter of motivating those people into useful action, and this message will not come from the mass media (its very existence belies its inability).

A situational possibility that exists is the recent dismal performance of the U.S. military's recruiters: various reports have indicated that given the military-industrial complex's current operational trajectory more troops will be needed, and all branches have had some problems in the past year meeting their goals for incoming soldiers. The counter-recruitment push has recently garnered a fair amount of corporate and independent media attention, and for as much as it can be assessed so early, it is an effective tool in preventing individuals from filling the military's quotas for fresh meat. This is a very direct weakness in the plans of empire to impose military superiority on a large scale in many places at the same time (at least until they develop more automated killing machines along the lines of the drone planes). Counter-recruiting also has the benefit of being a directly effective and personally rewarding low-risk tactic, though it is time-consuming and requires something of a long-term commitment. We must also not forget that there are plenty of people suffering from capitalism-enforced starvation in this country: programs like food kitchens and Food Not Bombs are possibly the most direct and close-to-home tactic for actually providing for the most basic of human needs. It was reported that J. Edgar Hoover understood and commented on the Black Panther Party's Breakfast for Children program as a dangerous threat to the status quo. Cooking and eating together are also very social actions for humans so a side benefit of these programs is the great human interaction and community building. Even un-permitted food distribution projects are also very low-risk, relatively low commitment and require only a small investment of time.

The most basic method of breaking the machine of empire is to emulate the Luddites and throw a proverbial wrench in the works. The crux of effectiveness here is in carefully choosing small actions that utilize timing or other situational conditions to magnify the impact. There are several environmental organizations and other groups that have successfully and not-so-successfully used these sorts of tactics. (The intricacies of specific tactics is not the focus of this critique and the details of their tactics can and do make up many several books.)

Of course the most time-honored and effective economic tool that the resistance can wield is the striking power of the labor movement. The roots of the American May Day tradition are planted in the 1886 general strike, this struggle led to the one of labor's most history win, the eight-hour day. Of all the modern anti-empire movements, unions are the last to employ symbolic protest, because they are direct-action based entities; they get what they want by flexing their collective muscles and making the machine come shuddering to a halt. This great power has led to fierce repression both by private and governmental forces, indicating that they understand the dangerousness of the "ultimate veto power" one big union could have. The destruction of empire would probably have to be linked closely to bread and butter issues for the full brunt of the labor movement to be behind the action, but a serious call put out for a general strike is very frightening to the powers-that-be.

The biggest advantage the resistance always has is the initiative, the power to make the empire react to our actions. When we have a permitted march we are giving this strategic superiority up in every tactical aspect including the media. The corporate media is exactly that, corporate and it is the corporate empire we are fighting. We should understand the reality of a symmetrical brute type of resistance and perhaps take a few lessons from the American Revolution in all of its mythic proportions about "fighting like a man".

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stop paying taxes Hex Monday, Aug. 01, 2005 at 7:23 PM
Taxes = community Sheepdog Monday, Aug. 01, 2005 at 9:47 PM
see you DO live off of SS Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 12:42 AM
fresca? Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 12:46 AM
I'm melting - what a world Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 1:38 AM
well my good friends... Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 2:46 AM
your "rules" have no bearing Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 4:34 AM
where's you beef? Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 4:57 AM
LOL fresca Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 5:21 AM
ah darn look what the rat dragged in Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 6:38 AM
some individuals are rather thick Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 12:31 PM
what part of pipe dream did you not get ? Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 9:05 PM
Absolutely fresca Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 9:38 PM
did you weite this? Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 10:30 PM
something v nothing - more v less Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 10:44 PM
please argue useless shifting pipe dreams Hex Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 10:55 PM
again for Mr. Whizzard Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 11:01 PM
And as to this... Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 11:16 PM
Trusts and Other Holdings Sheepdog Tuesday, Aug. 02, 2005 at 11:27 PM
Uh, yeah you have fresca Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2005 at 12:56 PM
a troll with no balls - only plays with other's Hex Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2005 at 6:39 PM
Gotcha again fresca Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2005 at 9:41 PM
KPC & Sheepdog ?name dropper Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2005 at 10:01 PM
all of my replies come at a cost Hex Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2005 at 10:52 PM

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