Response to Derrick O'Keefe about the black bloc and Heart Attack demo
March 11, 2010
In response to:
"Activists Debate Vancouver Olympic Protests" by Derrick O’Keefe:
In a crowd of about 200, about half of them were using the black bloc tactic. Many of the other half were supportive of the bloc’s actions and stayed with the march throughout and even engaged in some of the tactics themselves.
The main stated purpose of the march was to block traffic using a diversity of tactics. This was successful, since the confrontational nature of the march and its direction toward the Lions Gate Bridge (an essential traffic route) caused the police to shut down the bridge for more than an hour, if not several hours. Traffic was also blocked along the route of the march by the act of 200 people marching itself, along with newspaper boxes and a dumpster overturned in the street. The smashing of corporate windows was not the main component of the action.
Such incidents are frequently the work of anarchists or other rebels who use the black bloc or similar tactics. They are not as frequently the work of intruders, if “intruders” means people outside of or opposed to the resistance, such as cops, as they are the work of actual anarchists and rebels.
At no time has Derrick O’Keefe questioned the effectiveness of the Heart Attack march at accomplishing its own stated goal (traffic disruption), since it was objectively a success in that regard. He has only questioned its effectiveness from the standpoint of his own particular and personal goals as an activist attempting to recruit members and garner support to his particular movement or branch of the “social justice movement”.
It would be equally inappropriate and irrelevant for an anarchist who supports the black bloc tactic to claim that O’Keefe’s tactics of peaceful protest are not a success since they don’t result in the same kind or traffic disruption or attacks on corporations that the Heart Attack march did. Because his protests are primarily aimed at communicating a message, recruiting and building “public support”, not blocking traffic. Not all tactics are used for the same purposes. Not all tactics are used at all times. Regardless of opinion or ideology. The use of the black bloc tactic at one time does not preclude the use of a non-violent communication-oriented tactic at another time.
There was never a question or suggestion of whether concerns or critiques could or should be raised about the use of the black bloc tactic or any of the particular tactics used within the black bloc. Concerns and critiques of the black bloc and its use of tactics are also raised by the people who use the black bloc and its supporters. What was asked was that activists not denounce it in the corporate media, since this is the media and the state’s real wet dream (activists denouncing people in their “own movement”).
It’s highly unlikely that O’Keefe didn’t know this before, but since it has been plainly stated to be such repeatedly by harsha and zig zag, he can no longer claim ignorance and must be in fact arguing in bad faith, in dishonesty.
The only possible suppression of public debate in this case would come from the denouncements in the media, such as those made by Eby, which endanger those who use or support the black bloc tactic. Free debate cannot occur under increased police repression, internal division, tainted information spread to the public or imprisonment by the police, which can all be assisted by media denouncements.
O’Keefe presents limited anecdotal evidence from two activists and no evidence whatsoever to support his claim of the public’s negative response to the Heart Attack demo. More anecdotal evidence of support for the demo has been made publicly and amongst individuals known to me. Reasonably, it would seem that many in the “public” may oppose what happened while many may have supported or been inspired by it, as many youth obviously were by the WTO riots in Seattle (during which non-anarchist Black youth were inspired to come down and loot because of the earlier actions of the anarchists in the black bloc).
The Heart Attack demo objectively did not shut down but strengthened public “space” and debate given the evidence of two forums on the topic (at VIVO and W2) and numerous public statements in support (such as those made by SFU labour history director Mark Leier, or indigenous elder Stella August of the Power of Women DTES group) or against it, none of which would have occurred if not for the demo.
The police did not require the black bloc to justify their budget and the bloc is not any more prone to infiltration than other tactics are. If anything, open public activist groups are the most prone to long-term and damaging infiltration as was shown in the anti-war movement in California where a cop became leader of a group or in the COINTELPRO era in the United States (although program names have changed).
The strategy of the Heart Attack was clear, as I already stated, block traffic using a diversity of tactics. It was obviously quite successful at attaining this goal with its tactics, given the bridge shut down and other traffic disruption downtown.
Critique can and should be productive. Denouncement is counter-productive. Bad faith, dishonesty and side-stepping arguments is counter-productive.
And how will you democratically exclude tactics when you are the minority position?