Even though he linked to a Wikipedia page stating that, “’The Black Bloc’ is sometimes incorrectly reported as being the name of a specific anarchist group. It is, rather, a tactic that may be adopted by groups of various motivations and methods,” Chris Hedges, throughout his entire op/ed piece, still referred to some Oakland Occupiers as “Black Bloc Anarchists.” (To be clear, Black Bloc is just a tactic, a group of protesters wearing all black to make themselves indistinguishable within the group.) Chris Hedges then assigns very definite and very specific characteristics to this mythical group of “Black Bloc Anarchists.” In short, he made a very nice strawman and beat the tar out of it.
Ignoring for a minute the rambling about Zapatistas that Chris found in one article somewhere, he makes a few other assertions that are incorrect. The first is that anarchists actively oppose unions and people’s worker movements. This is just incorrect. Anarchists have a long tradition of supporting worker’s unions and movements to the point of some anarchists considering themselves anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-socialists. Which deflates the second assertion Chris makes of anarchists in that we “do not believe in organization, indeed oppose all organized movements.” This is absurd on the face of it: how could people working in unison (Black Bloc, working together to build shields) oppose organization?
In the same article, Chris phones up one of his friends to get quotes denouncing Black Bloc tactics (note that it is not a form of anarchy, just a tactic) and his friend makes an interesting point. Chris’s buddy, Derrick Jensen, states that at some point escalation is needed to prevent further violence from the state. He says:
I don’t have a problem with escalating tactics to some sort of militant resistance if it is appropriate morally, strategically and tactically. This is true if one is going to pick up a sign, a rock or a gun …
If you live on Ogoni land and you see that Ken Saro-Wiwa is murdered for acts of nonviolent resistance, if you see that the land is still being trashed, then you might think about escalating. I don’t have a problem with that.
The week that anarchists in Oakland demonstrated in Black Bloc, including the shield wall and clashes with the police, is the same week that a federal judge threatened to take over the Oakland PD because of its continual mishandling, abuses, and corruption. This is the same PD that beats its citizens into compliance, kettles protesters to beat them, and nearly killed Scott Olsen (maybe others) by shooting them with projectiles and gassing them with chemical agents. Chris seems to believe that this is the fault of some Black Blockers, that they have asked for this sort of treatment by their actions, and not the fault of the police themselves. This is blaming the victim. Oakland police used gas, rubber bullets, grenades, pepper-ball guns and other forms of violence against the citizens way before the Black Bloc got there. That some of those citizens decided to defend themselves against state violence by building a shield wall, certainly isn’t provoking the police to be violent towards them, any more than a short skirt provokes rape. In short, the Oakland PD have terrorized its citizens for decades, at what point do they get the “go-ahead” from Chris and his friend Derrick to defend themselves?
Chris and Derrick have somehow become the arbiters of when citizens can stop being beaten by cops and do something. Chris continues this theme with his other-worldly divination that some of these anarchists in Black Bloc are “not from the city,” and should follow the direction of African-American and other local community organizers. You see, community organizers and African-Americans are legitimate leaders and should “determine the forms of resistance,” and we should ask their permission on how to protest. Just as the national Occupy movement should look to Van Jones and Richard Trumka for permission to protest in the manner that they see fit. And the protesters in Syria and Egypt should ask permission from the Muslim Brotherhood and remain nonviolent as tanks and Jeeps run them over and the military guns them down in the city squares. (According to Chris’s assertions, that is.)
As for Chris’s point about Black Bloc ruining the reputation of Occupy, he might be right. I’m not so arrogant as to speak for the entire country and presume to know how they feel about us. I’m sure it does turn some people at home off just as I’m sure it does inspire some people at home; I know I like to see people defend themselves. Chris makes the point that this is a PR game, a media grab and that fights with police aren’t winning the hearts and minds of Americans. Chris, watch the news, especially local news: we already lost that fight. In every local news segment I’ve seen, in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Sacramento, the reporters only read the statements of the police, mayors, and city council members. The media reports how much Occupy “costs” the respective city and not how much medical attention, food, and shelter Occupy gave to the needy. The media has largely followed along with the narrative that Occupy is already violent (reporting alleged rapes and beatings), unhygienic, and a burden, and that we generally don’t have a message or don’t know what we want. We already lost the media grab, Chris.
The truth of the latest action in Oakland is that the Oakland Occupiers were trying to expropriate an abandoned building to use it as a community center. Some Occupiers predicted that the corrupt and brutal Oakland police department would react with kettling, gas, grenades, and projectiles, in other words they’d react with violence, and the Occupiers built a shield (a wholly defensive implement) to protect themselves. These people dressed in black so the corrupt and abusive police force could not identify them easily. When the police kettled the protesters and fired gas into the crowd, some protesters responded with defense; defense of their own bodies, defense of their communities, and defense of their fellow protesters. After a day of receiving violence, some demonstrators (whether they were anarchists or not) reacted by damaging city hall and a flag—the very bastion of corruption in the city and its symbolic standard.
Which Chris’s friend Derrick characterizes as, “Hey, I’m going to throw a flowerpot at a cop because it is fun.”
Yep. That’s what happened.