Those who are uncomfortable with radical politics often complain that direct action gives “legitimate” protest a bad name, that it somehow detracts or distracts from the “reasonable and peaceful” marches, rallies, and speeches favored by liberal demonstrators. This crowd usually has little or no experience with the arsenal of tactics employed by radical protesters, but somehow feels qualified to denounce them as either dangerous or ineffective.
50,000 students march in London to protest cuts to higher education. As they pass the ruling Conservative Party headquarters, hundreds of them storm the building, occupying it and smashing windows. A clearer message could not be sent to the politicians who jealously guard their corporate profit margins by squeezing students and workers. Enter Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students and professional dickhead, who immediately condemned the spontaneous direct action. “This was not part of our plan,” he said. “We wanted the march to remain boring and ineffectual, so the politicians, whose ranks I will soon join, could more easily ignore it.” In his opposition, Mr. Porter reveals himself as a cynical, power-hungry ladder climber who uses the student organization to advance his own career. When things heat up, he is quick to back away from his constituency, joining ranks with the horrified Tories whose house was deservedly ransacked. There are plenty of characters like Aaron Porter at UCD, some of them in ASUCD. It’s best to ignore these hacks, who tell us to vote like good little sheep and everything will be ok. Let them play politics while we do the real thing.
A question for the critics of direct action: when has a major social movement ever been compromised by a strike, a sit-in, an occupation, or a riot? Did the Civil Rights movement end because of the riots in Birmingham? Did the Free Speech movement collapse when 800 students occupied Sproul Hall and were arrested?
No. These actions don’t hurt the movement–they are the movement.
Finally, those who casually denounce protests, riots, or even property destruction as “violent” should ask themselves why they don’t also denounce, with equal force, the swinging batons, the boots, the tasers, the pepper spray, and the guns used by cops to deny us our voice? Those who take refuge in a vague pacifism should spend a day reading How Nonviolence Protects the State, by Peter Gelderloos.
There is a pattern to the historical manipulation and whitewashing evident in every single victory claimed by nonviolent activists. The pacificist position requires that success must be attributable to pacifist tactics and pacifist tactics alone, whereas the rest of us believe that change comes from the whole spectrum of tactics present in any revolutionary situation, provided they are deployed effectively. Because no major social conflict exhibits a uniformity of tactics and ideologies, which is to say that all such conflicts exhibit pacifist and decidedly nonpacifist tactics, pacifists have to erase the history that disagrees with them or, alternately, blame their failures on the contemporary presence of violent struggle.