Ph.D. Octopus

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Historicizing “Violence”: Thoughts on the Hedges/Graeber Debate

with 25 comments

By Peter

There has been a running debate, started by Chris Hedges, over the proper tactics of street protests and the role of violence in the Occupy Movement. Hedges, who was one of the first writers with an audience to support Occupy Wall Street, attacked Black Bloc, which he mistakenly seems to have identified as a cohesive movement, rather than a tactic. Black Bloc occurs when protesters dress the same (normally in black hoodies), move in a pack, and, often, provoke confrontation with the cops by smashing windows, overturning garbage cans, etc… By dressing the same, they make it far more difficult for police to single out individuals. Coming on the heels of the Oakland protests, Hedges called the Black Bloc, a “cancer” on the movement, who provoke unnecessary repression by the state, distract from the message, and practice a sort of negative politics of aggression, in which confrontation and the symbolism of militancy takes the place of organizing and coalition building.

In reply, David Graeber, one of the grandfathers of OWS, defended the Black Bloc. He corrected some of Hedges’ factual inaccuracies, but resorted to a fairly hysterical response to Hedges’ (admittedly unnecessarily provocative) language, accusing Hedges of using a rhetoric that “historically, has been invoked by those encouraging one group of people to physically attack, ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another,” and arguing that Hedges would be read as a call to violence against Black Bloc. (I, at least, sure didn’t read Hedges’ article as a call for genocide). More reasonably he pointed out that the police almost always resort to violence and that the media almost always blame this violence on protesters, whether or not the Black Bloc is involved. State repression will happen no matter what that kid in the black hoodie does. Finally he argued that the mythologies that have developed around supposedly non-violent movements have obscured how often they involved violent activities, most often of a far more deadly sort.

Masked Political Protesters Violently Destroying Property

As a historian of the abolitionist movement I was struck by how timeless this debates is. Few issues tore the anti-slavery movement apart as much as the question of violence: should fugitives use violence to defend themselves? should abolitionist victims of mob attacks (like Elijah Lovejoy) violently defend themselves? Should insurrection be encouraged? Some, like William Lloyd Garrison (a pacifist and Christian anarchist), maintained that non-violence was both moral and practical in the long run (by getting the conscience of the North on their side). Others, Frederick Douglass being the most notable, but also Theodore Parker, Charles Lenox Remond, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, argued that it was “right and wise” to kill someone trying to capture a slave. Like today, activists debated both the morality and the pragmatism of violent activism (different issues that are too often conflated).

One interesting difference, though, was the definition of violence, where the line between violence and nonviolence got drawn. As Graeber suggested at the end of his letter, the violence that Black Bloc protesters have been accused of–breaking windows, spray painting, occasionally throwing rocks– is small beans compared to the violent tactics that have been debated in most political movements. For abolitionists, the question was about the morality of taking up arms against the state, something they did over and over again, killing a number of slaveholders and US Marshals. One group I study, called the Boston Anti-Man Hunting League, planned on kidnapping Southerners who were trying to capture slaves. Kidnapping the kidnapper, if you will. And when these actors set the terms, non-lethal force was rarely considered “violent.” In 1851, When a mob of black Bostonians pushed their way into a court room, grabbed a slave, “kicked, cuffed and knocked about,” some guards, and ran off, Garrison applauded the act. If he thought pushing their way into a court room and shoving down police officers crossed the line, he didn’t mention it. The point was, when abolitionists discussed what tactics were violent, they meant things far more radical and dangerous than anything that the Black Bloc thinks about.

Obviously the stakes were much higher in the fight against slavery than they are today in the Occupy movement. But violence of some form has dotted American social movements. Let’s not run away from this: the Left has often used violent tactics, as one, among many strategies. Unions waged pitched battles against state militias and violently kept scabs away from workplaces, black homeowners defended their right to integrate neighborhoods with the force of arms, and even the Stonewall Riot was, well, a riot, complete with firebombs, thrown bottles, and bloodied cops. What’s remarkable, in fact, is how little violence, all in all, the OWS movement has engendered. No talk of running to the barricades, no calls for “the deliberate increase in the chances of death,” or the “conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder,” no naming of “defense ministers” for the movement, or sloganeering about the “birth-pangs” of the new society.

The best defense of Graeber’s point, then, is that by defining “violence,” in such a narrow way (one that, without questioning it, includes property destruction as well as self-defense in the same category as aggressive violence against human beings), Hedges sets up an unrealistic standard, that few if any social movements could meet. If you get 100,000 angry people in the street, its hard to imagine that some won’t throw a rock or fight back when cops try to kick the shit out of them. This is especially true as cities impose greater and greater restrictions on the ability of protesters to meet, and as police resort to greater and greater acts of repression and violence. So hewing too closely to some mythologized vision of nonviolence, and working to exclude those violate the terms, means accepting a paralyzing and self-limiting definition of what are acceptable tactics.

The whole debate illustrates well the elasticity of the term violence, and the historically specific ways that it gets defined. At an earlier time, you were one of the “good” ones, if you eschewed armed struggle, and just limited yourself to the occasional excess in the street protest. Today, according to the administration of Berkeley, linking arms to resist police invasion is an act of violence. The Left should, rather than accept the state’s definition of what is nonviolent (and therefore what is “good” activism) fight back at an ideological level against definitions that only restrict our behavior.

At the same time, its hard to take Graeber’s wounded outrage totally seriously. Does he really not understand why nonviolent protesters are angry when a tiny minority hijacks their events? Does he really not see how a small group trying to provoke the cops endangers everyone? I’m not super offended by Black Bloc tactics, but if I were the type to engage in them, I sure wouldn’t be shocked when other people disapproved. I also have no patience for the ultra-leftists who openly detest unions, community groups, and the Democratic Party as a bunch of pathetic bureaucratic sell-outs, but then clutch their pearls in shock when anyone dares to attack their preferred group or tactic.

As Bhaska Srunkara points out, tactics like the Black Bloc are unlikely to lead to the type of democratic dialogue that will inspire more people to join a movement. Its hard to see how a smashed window will convince anyone to join your movement, but its easy to see how it will keep them out. “Masks, after all, aren’t good for talking to people.” And rarely do you see the “fuck-shit-up” crowd coming to the boring planning meetings or going out flyering with you.

In my mind, the proper response is for all sides to dial down the outrage. This question is old and probably never ending. I have absolutely no interest in throwing a brick or whatnot, but I think history teaches us that at a low level, at least, such things are likely to be part of any significant social movement. As long as serious acts of violence against people (as opposed to against property) don’t erupt, I’m willing to live and let live, while remembering that the real action should be in dialogue, organizing, and recruitment, not whatever happens to the Starbucks’ window.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

February 13, 2012 at 00:42

25 Responses

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  1. Interesting post.

    A coupla things.

    1. Historicising the black bloc as well as “violence” is useful: ‘The Black Bloc Papers’ is relevant here.

    2. Harsha Walia has some interesting stuff to say about the (other) actions engaged in by black blocs, esp the defensive role (de-arresting etc) played by them.

    3. I’m not sure if Hedges’ mis-characterisation was a mistake or simply malicious. That is, it’s possible that he was determined to demonise The Black Bloc and simply set out to assemble what little evidence he could in order to do so, including by way of recruiting Derrick Jensen(!); seemingly on the basis that Jensen has had a public conflict with John Zerzan, and Zerzan is (framed as being) The Black Bloc’s chief ideologue.

    4. I don’t agree that Graeber was fairly hysterical in his response or that it’s unreasonable to read Hedges as supporting the violent suppression of The Black Bloc. Graeber, in other words, was correct to draw attention to the inflammatory rhetoric employed by Hedges and to do so in an historical context in which (other) protesters have actively cooperated with police in resisting, actively identifying, capturing and handing over to police suspected members of black blocs and others engaged in minor acts of vandalism.

    5. As well as historicising and defining violence, I think it’s also useful to situate it. Very often, popular violence against the state is defensive.

    6. I obviously can’t speak for Graeber, but he may object to the idea that the presence of a black bloc on a demonstration is thereby evidence that a hijacking has occurred (and his outrage, such as it is, would seem to have as its source the very poor quality of Hedges’ analysis and its implications for reasonable debate rather than moral upset). In any case, I know I do. It’s more tabloid journalism than serious analysis.

    7. Finally, I think it’s mistaken to suggest that participation in or advocacy on behalf of black blocs or some other form of ‘militant protest’ means the cessation of dialogue — this is really a matter of time and place. So too, assuming that those who do so do not also spend time being bored at planning meetings, flyering or attending to the countless other mundane tasks that typically constitute political activity.


    February 13, 2012 at 04:05

  2. Really, really good!


    February 13, 2012 at 07:45

    • I love your historical approach to hysterics. This debate plays itself out in very serious ways in Palestine. By using the word “serious” I may be showing my hand about my own lack of connection to the occupy movement but the issue is life and death in Palestine. The complexity of engaging in non violent work in Palestine is staggering and the breadth of Israeli intelligence’s reach within all movements puts the FBI to shame. But, each time a rock is thrown, by a Palestinian or a provocateur, the military response is complete and overwhelming. Still, there is a growing recognition within Palestinian civil society that true mass non violent resistance is the only option. In Palestine, people will die, not just get pushed around by a young police officer who is really doing his job sometimes and not being an “oppressor”, also, likely a union member.

      Howard Lenow

      February 13, 2012 at 10:15

      • Great post Peter. Howard, I also immediately thought of Israel/Palestine. For years, people have been saying that if only the Palestinians adopted Ghandian/MLK tactics of non-violent resistance, then the Israeli occupation would end overnight. Well, there’s never been a movement of non-violent resistance on that large a scale, but there certainly are non-violent Palestinian protest movements that have been harassed and repressed by the IDF (and sometimes assisted by Israeli peace activists). I agree that non-violent resistance is the way to go, but I also understand Palestinian frustration, particularly in the face of an increasingly reactionary Israeli government.

        David Weinfeld

        February 13, 2012 at 11:31

      • One example is a three year effort coordinated by Anarchists Against the Wall, an Israeli “organization” (they identify as anarchists, so organization is anathema) with the local organizing committee, who have gone every Friday to the Village of Bil’in, whose land was taken by the Settler movement and the IDF to construct the “Wall” around Palestine and which took 75% of the village’s farmland. I have attended the non violent demonstrations at Bil’in and have been tear gassed and beaten on by the border security who always shut down the demonstration after about 1/2 or so claiming rocks were thrown or the border breached. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of the village regarding the path of the “fence” and the borders were adjusted somewhat. People have been seriously injured at these demonstrations and there is always a concern for kids getting too excited after years of oppression, or IDF plants in the crowd to foment violence. These nonviolent actions have sprung up in other villages and for other reasons, but have not yet developed into a mass movement across Palestine society for many reasons too complicated to address in a short note.

        howard lenow

        February 13, 2012 at 12:03

  3. Interesting that you note that ‘the media almost always blame this violence on protesters’. I did some work on Harper’s Ferry (a while ago!) and the press reaction to John Brown’s violence. Obviously the southern, proslavery press was keen to paint the antislavery movement as increasingly and insanely violent and this was a ‘good’ moment for their message. But what was interesting also was the way the northern, antislavery press called that kind of violence ‘retaliatory’ – particularly citing things like Preston Brooks’ caning of Charles Sumner, but also the general violence of slavery itself. So while I don’t doubt at all the fact that, as you/Graeber say ‘the police almost always resort to violence’, it is interesting that this part of the description (i.e. that the system is violent to begin with and that the protesters’ violence is retaliatory) is as much a part of the standard protest discourse.

    Bronwen Everill

    February 13, 2012 at 10:52

  4. […] Additional reading should definitely include Susie Cagle’s on-the-ground analysis and this historical perspective at PhD Octopus. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", […]

  5. I find this to be a bizarre reaction to my statement. It’s not like I said that it was damaging or illegitimate to debate tactics. Obviously it’s healthy to debate tactics. In fact I myself have criticized the tactics in question when I feel they will have the effects you describe. But I also criticize those who go around creating huge public moral crises over tactics that have been deployed extremely rarely – in 800 occupations, we’ve probably seen a total 5 broken windows, and none of them of owner-operated enterprises, and none to my knowledge actually used as a pretext by police on the scene to attack those who weren’t participating. If such tactics do endanger anyone, it’s precisely because they allow people like Chris Hedges write national screeds telling everyone they happened, and instead of saying “oh well, in any overwhelmingly peaceful movement, there will always be one or two silly incidents” and drawing people’s attention, instead, to police violence, which actually breaks bones and heads, to say instead, “no, this damage to windows is extremely important and we need to concentrate all our energies now into thinking about it.” Writing such screeds gives those who don’t know what’s going on a totally false impression of what’s happening, leaves them with the impression such tactics are common, and are the reason why police are breaking bones and heads, which even Hedges knows is not really the case at all. It’s basically only through pieces like his that this might become the case.

    Anyway that’s the tactical discussion, it was secondary. What I said that you characterize as “hysteria” was my insistence that it was dangerous to demonize certain participants in a movement by creating non-existent ideological tendencies, claiming anyone who dresses in black is part of this ideological tendency, and declaring that all such people in said made-up group are irrational crazed fanatics who must be purged. I didn’t say it was outrageous to discuss tactics. I said it was outrageous to make up enemies within the movement and declare them irredeemably evil. If you think it’s “hysterical” to say that this kind of behavior is dangerous, well, I guess that’s your right.


    February 13, 2012 at 15:35

    • Thanks for writing David. I’m a big admirer of your work, so I’m a bit uncomfortable having our first interaction be an internet fight. And looking back, I actually think you’re correct in calling me out here, in that the point of my post was to try to dial down tensions between the sides, to suggest that whatever violence has occurred in OWS is small by historical standards. So I shouldn’t have called what you said hysterical. And I hope that the rest of my post made clear that I was actually sympathetic to most of what you wrote. I do think that a fair amount of heated debate about this stuff is fairly inevitable, and its best if all of us try not to take the bait. I was trying for a false balance and should have done better.
      Also, in case it wasn’t clear, I agree that black bloc tactics aren’t to blame for police violence. The police are to blame for police violence.
      That said, I think a lot of the mistrust of the black bloc (or people who use those types of tactics, or people who use tactics that get labeled black bloc. At this point, it all seems jumbled) is exactly that because they act “autonomously” they avoid actually having to have these discussions of tactics and being held responsible for what they do. I’ve been to so many protests where things seem fine until all of a sudden one or two people do something over the line, and the cops (predictably, if not justifiably) over react. Now all of us are in danger, either from the cops themselves or from stampedes of protesters. The point is, their free choice to engage in that type of action, free within in the framework of a diversity of tactics, has prevented me from exercising my free choice to avoid it. This can be particularly bad when non-citizens who can’t risk arrest are in the crowd. This is my beef: less in what individuals want to do on their own, and more in how people who engage in these tactics rarely consider the welfare and desires of others in the protest. I think its legitimate to be sincerely angry at this behavior, and to try to avoid collaborating with people who you feel endanger you or the movement in the future.
      Hedges may be wrong that there is a cohesive group doing these things, but he’s not wrong that splits around these issue of tactics are real and should be aired in the name of dialogue. He should have done so with less provocative language, and, while one can have a perfectly valid opinion without being steeped in the finer points of Left-history, he should have got his history correct. But he’s clearly not alone in being uncomfortable about these tactics, as the very existence of this spiraling internet fight proves. I was concerned, and perhaps I read you wrong, that your reaction served as a way to avoid this discussion, and to switch the topic to Hedges’ linguistic excesses, rather than the legitimate concerns some have with certain styles of protest.
      As I said though, I’m not actually super offended one way or the other. I was hoping for both sides to accept a certain realistic accommodation: people won’t always love what you do and certainly won’t be polite, but both sides are probably here to stay. After all we’re on the same side.
      — Peter
      p.s. Debt is a fantastic book.

      Peter Wirzbicki

      February 13, 2012 at 23:45

      • thanks I really do appreciate the grace and thoughtfulness of your response.

        I agree that the problem is lack of coordination. Don’t get me wrong, there are, in many cities, a small handful of people who are inclined to act the way you describe – or even, a few who come close to being as narrow-minded and crazy as Hedges describes. Many of them do Black Bloc, when they do anything at all (which often they don’t, often they just sit behind their computers typing extreme things and insulting other activists). But for the most part, Black Bloc people will coordinate if they’re not excluded. That’s what we discovered back in 2000. At Seattle, as I remarked, it was kind of a disaster, nobody was talking to each other, we ended up having people like Medea Benjamin boasting about turning BB’ers over to police. So after that there was a process of reconciliation: one side said, okay, diversity of tactics, the other said, ok, we won’t do any property destruction during A16, just protect the blockaders, then in Philly, the BB tried to create a diversion to draw the police away from the blockaders, at the Bush inauguration, after that, the DAN people joined the BB, etc etc. But it’s all impossible until the demonization stops.


        February 14, 2012 at 13:49

    • Well, I won’t be pirtestong against police brutality any time soon. Police officers have a thankless job: they have to fight crime, yet they are often despised by the people they protect. It’s thanks to the SPVM and the SQ Montreal did not become Santo Motardo, people should show some respect and be grateful for what they did.


      February 27, 2012 at 13:12

  6. I tried to comment previously. Perhaps my comment is in the spam bin?


    February 14, 2012 at 02:43

    • It was in the spam. Got it out. Thanks for the heads up.

      David Weinfeld

      February 14, 2012 at 13:23

      • I jineod the battered women’s movement on my 35th birthday, half my life ago. I was still in shock that such a thing could have happened to me during my first marriage. I’ve been active on various boards of DV organizations ever since.I am now involved in figuring out what next’ for my current organization as a participant in the Strong Field project in California. And I feel called upon to leave some memories of the early movement for today’s young activists, before health issues whisk me away. A lot of us have already gone.Where to begin? What voids still need to be filled? Your article (above) has provided some direction. Thank you!


        February 26, 2012 at 21:21

  7. A reasonable article on a touchy subject. Personally, I still fall more to the Graeber side of the issue. A really great point here though, is how our notions of violence have been quite domesticated. Seriously, we do live in a country where protest has been silenced by fenced in free speech zones, and where, Taft-Hartley, only the strikes that are effective are illegal. RICO style conspiracy laws targeted at protests that work are also.coming about. Check out the spooky bills coming up in Georgia and Oregon. Even so-called “out of line” Black Bloc events (which are really minimal anyhow) serve the purpose of stating: people believe in this enough to fight for it. It took all sides of the Civil Rights movement and the Abolition movement for them to succeed. The typical political reaction to any protest in the US has been: let them carry their signs and yell for awhile, and then they will feel like they did something, then we can go back to business as usual. The frustration evinced, not just by damaging property, but by occupying in general is as much a protest against the co-opting of protest as against any specific issue. It is the difference between a demand to simply be heard, and the demand for actual social change. It is an important sentiment– though we had rather not have to fight, we certainly will if need be. It was in that climate that actual change began for the civil rights movement. Just speaking intuitionally, I feel like what is going on now is so much bigger than Seattle (which in its time was huge). It could also get a lot uglier, and those of us really committed to social ought to worry a whole lot more on how to maintain an abiding respect for one another, and a whole lot less on divisive blame games that distribute too much of our time and energy against one another.

    However, reminding ourselves that violence is not what it used to be (literally)…this deserves much reflection. Occupying places that are already in the first place public (ie– places we shouldn’t even have to occupy to occupy)…that this has become a form of resistance speaks volumes about the magnitude of the subjugation we have accepted, and its virtual invisibility. Most of the demands amount to: give back to us what has always been ours. And I think we err to phrase it otherwise. To speak the language of percentages– it is not so much that the 1% unfairly administrates their larger share of the resources, the problem is, rather, that this larger share simply does not belong to them, and as such, is not theirs to administrate. Period. But I digress.

    And then, thinking pratically, the sum of personal assaults by individuals involved in or riding alongside the US occupations is probably still less than that which occurs in, say, any college town on a game day. Nobody bothers to worry about how that threatens the ultimate rule of law. And let’s face it, this movement we are talking about is only slightly more organized than my fantastic example.

    As in any movement we will have to learn to be flexible on the fly. “Diversity of Tactics” does not mean all violence is justified or appropriate. “Nonviolent protest” does not mean attempted self-defense or even occasional forwardly aggressive behavior are necessarily wrong. Especially when we are living in society in which Rosa Parks would have been gassed and/or tasered before being immediately shipped off to a holding tank, and held there incommunicado until.

    A protest that does not effect some disruption is simply not a protest, just as a strike that does not intefere with commerce is not a strike. I think right now we should be playing close attention to attempts to criminalize modes of citizen journalism (basically already there in Chicago) and (b) attempts to legally convert organizing by social media into a criminal conspiracy of some sort. We also ought to be working on some plan b’s since we depend on these so much. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have the plural, well-informed conversation we are having now. We would have CNN, Fox, and hearsay– almost like the pre-internet days.

    raja t

    February 26, 2012 at 03:49

  8. “Obviously the stakes were much higher in the fight against slavery than they are today in the Occupy movement. ”

    Am not quite sure as to why this is obvious, or if it even is.

    Many of the above points are reasonable, if somewhat immaterial. But the above quote takes me out of the piece and makes me wonder if the author even understands the point of occupy, or the wider reality and context that it is set in.


    February 26, 2012 at 09:16

  9. What’s most frustrating for me about the demonization of the blac block (or people in other situations that commit anonymous property damage) is the (in my experience) false assumption that that’s all they do. Day to day organizing is then brought up as what those truly committed to whatever cause would be doing if they were truly committed. Firstly, I want to say that I disagree, and that people should engage in whatever way they have time, energy, desire, etc., and secondly, in my experience a lot of people who participate in the bloc do the shit work too. Of course not everyone in the bloc does, because like any grouping of people we’re not all exactly the same.

    A few years ago security cameras were put up in a neighborhood that was being gentrified. Someone ripped them down. This lead to a long debate by business owners as to who was responsible. Eventually it was decided that anarchists must have done it, and then my group of friends specifically. This lead to business owners denouncing local anarchists and then a split between the local radicals/anarchists with some of the radicals even trying to identify specific individuals to be turned over (with the hope of saving anarchism’s good name).

    All the criticism (from liberals and radicals) centered around how if the people who ripped the cameras down really cared about the neighborhood they’d be doing more practical, day to day things to help it. The funny thing is our group of friends didn’t rip down the cameras (surprise, surprise, more than a dozen people in a neighborhood of a couple thousand, don’t like security cameras), and between the twelve or so of us that were being accused, we had help start and ran multiple community gardens, collective houses, a collective business, ran multiple distros, did prisoners support, hosted reading groups that were open to the public, worked at / ran shelters for women fleeing abusive relationships and immigrants with or without papers, etc. etc.

    The thing is these aren’t/weren’t little things we did and every now and then. They’re an intricate part of our day to day existence. I don’t feel the need to bring these up every time I’m challenged that I’m a mindless vandal. They aren’t merit badges. In fact, I hesitate to bring them up now but it seems like this is a genuine conversation and it would do you all good to know that the divide between the blac block and (for lack of a better expression) community organizers is largely mythical.

    Similarly, at our local occupation we did so many things that we never felt the need to take credit for – showed subversive movies and documentaries every few nights, arranged concerts, brought food, brought infrastructure to make the encampment more enjoyable but also harder to evict, hosting workshops / discussions on all sorts of issues (including a diversity of tactics so it wasn’t something that came out of nowhere), made and printed dozens of free pamphlets (including the *welcome brochure*), put together marches, demonstrations and a building occupation, etc. etc. and then the one march after a friend of ours had been hit in the head with a rubber bullet and someone wrote “Fuck the Police” on some abandoned building, we were all of a sudden mindless vandals.

    To me it says more about a lack of trust, and (sadly and ironically), pacifists’ willingness to side with the state over their comrades. Someone spray-painting a building is all of a sudden more important and violent then the dozens of people police have murdered and the countless people they’ve put in cages. The denounciation was all done under the guise that such things alienate the (in my opinion) mythical public.

    But we didn’t denounce whoever tore down the cameras, in fact we celebrated them and had a march against gentrification and police, made posters explaining gentrification and why people act to stop it, and in the end the local business association decided to *canceled their plans to put up more cameras* (not because they cared but they realized how much it exposed them). And we didn’t denounce whoever wrote “fuck the police”. We once again sat through long discussions and explained (I don’t know how we had the patience) why people don’t like the police, how petty property destruction and sabotage have a long tradition in social movements, etc. and happily we’ve come to realize (at least where we are) people wanting to denounce and turn over people for property damage are actually in the minority, and that most people actually like it or understand it, and the few people who don’t want it weren’t willing to get the state or media involved.

    Sorry for the long post.

    ps: maybe people don’t realize we do more than break things because we wear masks when we do?


    February 26, 2012 at 11:16

    • I really like what you had to say. There is a great disjunction between what is believed about anarchism and what most people who I know that call themselves anarchists (the ones I know at any rate) actually believe. Take the security cam example. Fewer people like that than it seems. Lot’s of people like collective, egalitarian self-determination as a community organizing principle and practice. Among friends and family many people practice lesser and greater degrees of mutual aid all the time, and it works, is often safer, and more efficient. And though I consider myself an anarchist, I must admit, the word itself has become something of a rhetorical powderkeg. When many of the principles are closer to what most folks consider common sense. Here is an example in my community. There is an initiative afoot to close basically the only open homeless shelter which hosts over 400 inhabitants. There are no plans to replace it. The jails are so full they are actually under federal indictment, and the hospitals already cannot handle the traffic they have. Yet in this same 10 city blocks there are enough abandoned buildings to host much more than 400 beds. Most of these places are not dilapidated, and have been empty for over a year. Houston we have a common sense problem.

      raja t

      February 27, 2012 at 01:07

  10. dear Peter,

    “And rarely do you see the “fuck-shit-up” crowd coming to the boring planning meetings or going out flyering with you.”

    this sentence does not describe my experiences in the mid-South with anarchists and radical eco-activists. Many of the folks i donned the black with in the heady days after Seattle were exactly the folks who attended meetings and put up flyers. i’ve lost count of meetings attended and flyers posted, so it is mildly amusing to me that someone would write that folks who take the black don’t do regular organizing and protesting. to be fair, i guess you couldn’t recognize any flyer posters or meeting attendees underneath their masks.

    I have no clue how those things happened in NYC, Portland, Oakland or Denver or where ever the cultural hipoisie center of the universe happens to be at the moment.

    but in Appalachia, your broad sentence did not apply and is quite the opposite of what i experienced while wearing black at numerous large demonstrations which attended in affinity groups with activists from my bioregion.

    otherwise, thanks for a fine historical perspective.




    February 27, 2012 at 16:52

  11. One of the best discussions on the subject ive read so far..

    Kara D

    March 8, 2012 at 18:38

  12. […] Historicizing “Violence”: Thoughts on the Hedges/Graeber Debate […]

    Untitled « tkdawn

    April 1, 2012 at 12:58

  13. […] Historicizing “Violence”: Thoughts on the Hedges/Graeber Debate […]

  14. […] Historicizing “Violence”: Thoughts on the Hedges/Graeber Debate […]

  15. In general convincing, but it gave me pause when you said “the stakes were much higher” for the abolitionist movement than the Occupy movement. If, as should be evident though often isn’t, the Occupy movement is an anti-capitalist movement, and if slavery would probably never have been an international slave exchange without capitalism, then the stakes in the Occupy movement are much higher than the abolitionist movement, since it was capitalism in the first place which was responsible for if not slavery itself then its extent and influence.


    August 2, 2012 at 01:12

  16. […] Historicizing “Violence”: Thoughts on the Hedges/Graeber Debate […]

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