During Saturday’s nonviolent protest of about 5,000 activists outside the conference center in downtown Toronto, where leaders of the G20 were meeting, several hundred masked figures dressed in black broke away from and started torching police cars and smashing store fronts. Not only did this steal the attention away from the peaceful protesters, but it got a lot of them hurt and arrested. By the end of the day’s events, the police had beat activists and journalists, fired tear gas and rubber bullets and arrested more than 560 people.
Just about anyone following the G20 could have seen this coming. In the weeks before, Canada was busy building what The Guardian called “the toughest security cordon in the history of the summit,” spending an estimated $1 billion dollars and bringing in 19,000 police officers. So, clearly it was ready to use them. But more importantly, why was it so ready to use them?
Some might point to the threat of vandalism promised by a group of Ontario anarchists a month before the summit. In a message to its members, the Southern Ontario Anarchist Resistance (SOAR), announced its plan to stage “militant protests” and to “humiliate the security apparatus” by using “a variety of tactics”—a common phrase used by anarchists who perceive nonviolent action as ineffective. But as is so often the case, such dismissal stems from a complete lack of knowledge as to the dynamics of nonviolent action.
In what sounds like a reasonable appeal, SOAR told its members, “Respect for diversity of tactics also means not smashing things while we’re part of the labour child-friendly march, and remembering that although we might think certain tactics are pointless/annoying, we should not needlessly antagonize those people.”
What these anarchists don’t seem to realize is that nonviolent campaigns lose their power and are generally rendered pointless when they are associated with people who act violently.
This is why governments are always eager to paint their critics as violent, and sometimes, as police in Quebec did two years ago, plant saboteurs to incite violence. In fact, there’s been some speculation that the security forces in Toronto encouraged acts of destruction. In regards to the three police cars that were set on fire, The Guardian wrote:
Questions are being asked as to why the police chose to drive the vehicles into the middle of a group of protesters and then abandon them, and why there was no attempt to put out the flames until the nation’s media had been given time to record the scenes for broadcast around the world.
If this is true, it doesn’t really say much for SOAR and the effectiveness of its “variety of tactics” approach. It suggests that they are considered more of a convenient pawn than a serious threat. In fact, the real threat is a strong nonviolent movement able to appeal to the public by exposing the illegitimacy of the G20. It’s only on the surface that the security apparatus is able to justify a massive crackdown based on threats of vandalism. No mega-corporation is facing serious existential danger because of some smashed windows.
Of course, this anarchist offshoot has argued the contrary, saying that since mass audiences “generally dismiss every form of direct action and every radical cause” (a claim that is not supported), there isn’t any utility in trying to win the public over to a given cause. Therefore, the point of their destructive action is to “put people on notice that there exists active insurrectionary resistance, right here in the belly of the beast”—an explanation that could ironically apply to a nonviolent campaign as well.
Another point of contention that should be noted is that SOAR and other anarchists like them do not view themselves as violent. As one masked protester told the Toronto Star newspaper: “This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. [The corporations] are the ones hurting people.”
Unfortunately, this rings as a rather naive, if not even disingenuous, statement. There are differing views on whether or not vandalism is a form of violence and while there’s no doubt it pales in comparison to the violence corporations engage in every day, it does scare people and furthermore leads to a string of unintended consequences.
In Toronto, it led to the passage of draconian laws that violate Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms. At least one family had their home mistakenly broken into by gun-brandishing police officers. Also, “non-lethal” weapons, such as tear gas, were used for the first time ever on the public citizenry of Toronto.
Anarchists engaged in vandalism may continue to dismiss the role they play in the perpetuation of violence, but they will do so at their own peril. There is no evidence of their tactics working toward any kind of positive change.
Looking back on the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle 10 years ago, we do not hear anyone applauding the work of those who smashed windows. If anything it’s taken 10 years to overcome those images and get people to recognize that Seattle was a largely nonviolent campaign that effectively shut down the WTO for years to come.
Perhaps the most encouraging result of the aftermath was that Seattle’s police chief not only apologized to the peaceful protesters but also came around to seeing their perspective and has become a critic of globalization. If there’s any chance of that happening again, it’s going to be through undisturbed nonviolent action.
None of this is to say, however, that the nonviolent protesters in Toronto are blameless for the general dismissal of their action. They bare responsibility for not figuring out a way to distinguish themselves from the anarchist vandals. Nearly every anti-globalization demonstration is hijacked by this group and nonviolent activists should have a plan for dealing with them by now.
Finally, G20 activists have done a poor job of making their demands known. The array of groups and issues present at G20 demonstrations confuses the public and rather than try to figure out how all the issues are connected, they just write everyone off as a bunch of misfits and societal castoffs.
The good news is that in the world of nonviolence, these are surmountable problems. Nonviolence isn’t the one tactic anarchists make it out to be. In his book Waging Nonviolent Struggle, Gene Sharp identified 198 methods of nonviolent action. If G20 activists can isolate the ones that aren’t working for them and employ new ones, perhaps the next demonstration will close the gap between the frustrated anarchists and the ignored peaceful protesters.
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Brain up folks, you should have known there would be vandalism and a staged “riot” the moment it was announced security costs were a $billion+
The entire city is swarming with police and yet they are unable to defend their own cars?
Everywhere I looked peaceful unarmed protesters were virtually outnumbered by gun-wielding security.
Anyone who was foolish enough to hang around once they saw what the criminals were doing on the weekend got what they deserved. Curiosity killed the cat … should get the message and get out of the way when people are smashing windowns, burning police cars and throwing objects at the gendarmerie.
If i hear one more mealymouthed pinhead say this kind of crap I’ll protest right in front of their house
We’ve proven so many times that provocateurs are indeed planted to do this kind of thing, yet the anarchists play directly into their corporate hands almost without fail. Violent anarchy is an amazingly myopic philosophy, since effective anarchy–if we truly want freedom–requires so much more self-discipline and critical thinking than anarchists of this ilk seem to give. Dorothy Day was an anarchist I can relate to, as was Ammon Hennacy and others who had the self-discipline to do their anarachy with absolute nonviolence and compassion for all. Effective anarchy requires nonviolence or it ceases to be effective. The idea is to develop self-discipline so that others are not justified in imposing their version of discipline. The black bloc style just looks like spoiled brats having little tantrums and they are manipulated pathetically easily by police and corporadoes. It reminds me of Ariel Sharon going to Temple Mount, playing the Palestinians like a fiddle. Conflict transformation requires the discipline to rise above the cathartic vengeance. It takes more maturity than our movements are showing.
You came up with NO plan for peace march organizers to prevent the Bloc from participating.
The only thing I can think of would be to ask the police to join the march and follow them.They usually walk in a block.
They don’t have an address and name tags.
How is anyone involved with the demonstration able to know who is who.
That was the job of the police. They failed.
They had time to investigate weeks and months before this weekend.
Attempting to round them up after the vandalism didn’t work, did it!
Maybe the police should have employed Wikileaks or a hacker to get info from their internet activities.
They have lots of info to use: from you tube, from their own videos of other events.
Seems to me the police didnot do their homework.
And their strategies were ridiculous.
There were as many police as participants, so they could have easily avoided any damage by assigning an officer to each person who showed up.
ugh… who’s calling who naive now?? social movements have got to realize that there can (and should) exist a loose symbiosis between so-called nonviolence and those that are willing to engage in actual confrontation and threats / use of force.
more militant parts of a movement give the less militant folks room to work… believing that we can win without any teeth at all is the epitome of naivety, and the ultimate underestimation of our enemy. power never concedes anything without a demand, and a demand without any underlying threat is just whining.
from what i gather about the book the author references, it looks like it is mainly advocating nonviolent direct action anyway, which further dilutes his already weak argument. how is smashing a corporation’s window more violent than shutting down a street, or taking over a place of business with a sit-in? nonviolent direct action also ‘scares people’, costs businesses money, and can often cause a ‘string of unintended consequences’ (just like any action anyone takes, ever, has unintended consequences).
supporting ‘nonviolent’ direct action is great… but instead of denouncing folks for breaking windows how about denouncing the cops that respond by beating on everyone present, guilty and innocent alike? show a little bit of solidarity, brother, we’re all in this together…
Are we? Really? If so, why do you constantly disprespect your fellow protestors who are trying to maintain disciplined nonviolence?
In the Serbian revolution in 2000, violent protestors were immediately outed and rejected by the movement on the grounds that they were probably undercover police acting as agents provocatueur. Perhaps we should do the same.
The cops were not smart
but old enough to know
how to lead zealots by the nose
of their righteousness and rage.
They Trojan Horse gifted them
the irresistibly delicious storefronts of Queen St. and Yonge,
far from the real fences and gates.
Soft Starbucks and Scotiabank targets,
then threw in plump cop cars, as bait.
O, and the zealots did their duty,
like dogs chasing a frightened thing,
smashing and burning and breaking,
setting the fattened decoys ablaze.
And so, like dominoes,
inexorable links in a causal chain,
like moths to flame –
havoc junkies, conjurers of emergencies –
the press descended like rain.
Like flies to shit they must cover it,
there were ten cameramen to every one ‘hooligan’,
and as their chattering clicking snapped,
the trap shut.
Rather than 10,000 clearly protesting the G20 peacefully,
or the issues of climate debt, or maternal health care, or global poverty
being heard or viewed,
the cops and the zealots and the media collude:
today it’s a burning cop car
on the cover of The Star.
How can you write, “Seattle was a largely nonviolent campaign that effectively shut down the WTO for years to come.”? It did no such thing. Since Seattle, the WTO has expanded to absorb various Eastern European nations, China, Vietnam, etc. The rest of your post I would have agreed with a month ago, but now I’m not so sure. Peaceful protest might be effective at winning civil rights, but there is no way, whatsoever, that it will change the economic order. I’m starting to wonder if non-violent vandal protest isn’t the way to go. (True violence is a no-starter). Corporations only understand the bottom line.
Mike, I was referring to the WTO meetings. As a Yes! Magazine article from November put it:
I recognize that globalization and free trade march on, but I think Rebecca Solnit gave some nuance and perspective in another piece from November, saying:
While I understand your frustration, I think it’s important to not let it overshadow the incredible achievements of Seattle, which were the work of nonviolent activists, not vandals.
actually vandals, anarchists, hooligans etc had a huge role in that historical moment; not only did they help the sit down blockades generalize into Seattle’s surrounding neighborhoods, and helped reinforce blockades once the initial sit downers were arrested, their property destruction also undeniably brought attention to the WTO. You can read about it if you like. It aint news at this point, sorry.
Bryan, I read your links. I’m still not convinced. I’m tottering the other way these days towards vandal protest (I still might fall back on your side of the fence yet) for the following reason:
I wonder how many youth have heard about the “violence” of the anarchists, have seen images of burning cop cars (and what an image that must be to a 14-year-old who has been inculcated with the value of obedience!) and has subsequently thought to tap “anarchism” into wikipedia to see what it is, anyway? Then they’ve learned that it is a legitimate political position with hundreds of years of history. (http://lilfa.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/anarchism-gets-some-airtime/)
Back in the day when the Establishment monopolized the information delivery, vandalism would have been counter-intuitive. And for someone who still gets their information from the mainstream media, he would still get the wrong message. But now with the internet, the “violence” can be explained. And even justified. And I’m wondering whether it might be justifiable.
Mike, I think that’s a good point and one I can personally attest to. I was 17 when Seattle happened and the only thing I remember are the images of vandalism and thinking “what a bunch of crazies.” Since then, of course I’ve learned about the insanity of global capitalism and free markets, and come to understand why people showed up to protest and why some were even angry enough to break windows, set things on fire. While I side with those activists—anarchists, Marxists, peaceniks, whatever—it is because I side with them that I feel the need to constructively criticize their tactics. My study of the dynamics of nonviolent strategy has convinced me that this is the most effective means of resistance. I would be doing a disservice to any campaign or movement to condone violence. Even vandalism—which, yes, by comparison to state and corporate violence is as physically harmless as a fly—has far more potential negative side effects than positive. The most dangerous of those negative side-effects is the impression it leaves on people “inculcated with the value of obedience.” People like the 17-year-old me. But if you attack the pillars that support the establishment, such as legitimacy in the media and legitimacy in use of force, you have a greater chance of reaching those people. That is my whole point with this article, and in general, the site.
How to write an article like this:
1. pick a citation of famous celebrity activist out of the thousands that exist, pull it totally out of context.
2. Ignore the vast majority of historical evidence that almost every social movement for freedom and dignity since the beginning of civilization has used various kinds of sabotage and political violence, not to mention tell people to turn our backs on our current comrades in Oaxaca, Greece, South Africa, Italy, Oakland, my own neighborhood for that matter, all of whom have used, should use, and will continue to use violence to struggle against their conditions, with tremendous popular support.
3. Care more about percieved notions of respectability and reputation amongst professional leftists, than about effectiveness, acting in accordance with our desires and position, or how we are percieved by and communicate with the larger social bases we actually come from.
4. Assume that the privilege of political actors youre speaking to (i think the word subjects might be more appropriate here) allows them to use SOLELY nonviolent means, which reuires both that the actors DO NOT intend to destroy the state, or that these actors maintain a belief that the state will wither away peacefully, along with the ignorance or active denial to forget that permitted protest, voting, and the like rely on a system of rights and privileges granted by a State, that most bohemoth monopolizer of, you guessed, it VIOLENCE.
5. Present a false dichotomy of violence and nonviolence, once again hoodwinking our less impatient or experienced readers into thinking that you, the author, have a mere tactical disagreement, when really you probably have fundamental political disagreements with the vast majority of anarchists (both historically and current day) on the nature of violence, the State, Capital, hierarchy, and the meanings of things like freedom and self-management. Avoid dealing with such disagreements directly, and instead try to get those rowdy anarchists to fall in line behind some leftist crap that frankly bored most of us in 1999, and now after the last ten years of rebellions around the world, is just a damn joke.
6.Blame state repression and infiltration on the most radical, militant, rowdy, or uncontrollable elements in your social movement, rather than on the State itself (anybody remember the Communists’ role in enforcing the Popular Army in Spain 36-37′?). Assist the State in its job of dividing public and covert elements of the movement, thus rendering both less effective. Rather than help generalize tactics and approaches (the wildcat, the riot, the looting, the occupation, whatever it may be) that if given a larger participatory base might fuel an insurrection or even revolution, help the State in its goal of marginalizing and alienating these militants. Then, in the same breath, point out that such tactics are marginalized and alienating. Sit back and enjoy the self-fulfilling prophecy youve created.
7. Spit on the sacrifices and struggles of current and past political prisoners by claiming that anyone who might commit an act of political violence (or even vandalism) is “an agent of the state.” This will help make sure that less people will support them, which is good because then those people will have more time and money to give to your nonprofit to help you pay permit costs for your next “police accountability” march. Also, political prisoners are bad people in general anyway, because sometimes when in prison they might use violence to defend themselves from the constant abuse of guards and screws, which is bad because violence is bad. Unless of course they use hunger strikes only, in which case they re maybe ok, as long as they can get all the other prisoners to “proclaim their nonviolence.”
8. Assume that the State is so omnipotent that we could never effectively challenge it ourselves, therefore when such challenges do occur (blockades, riots, looting, sabotage, wildcat strikes, the list goes on) they must be the product of either police provacateurs or State manipulation (“They must have left the cars there for the anarchists to burn on purpose! And i bet they built that foot locker there for the looters in Oakland on purpose too! Just to ruin our peaceful march!”). Make such claims loudly and boldly, knowing full well how ridiculous they sound, but also knowing that the couragous people who actually stood up for themselves and torched those pigs’ cars arent gonna publicly contradict you, because you would probably turn them in. (Theres a comrade for you.)
Fuck this shit. Until the last priest is hung with the guts of the last bureaucrat. Solidarity with the Greek anarchists, solidarity with the Oakland looters, solidarity with our comrades in prison in Canada, solidarity with the Mapuche struggle, and solidarity with anyone else using what means at their disposal to create a world less miserable than this one
Of course, what a great site and revealing posts, I definitely will bookmark your website.Have an awsome day!
Good morning! Ive just returned from France, there were billboards everywhere jeux concours gratuits, what does it mean? Thanks!