Last Friday, Al Gore told graduates at Massachusetts’ Hampshire College:
Now is the time. We need an American Spring this spring. We need to occupy democracy in the United States of America.
Yesterday, thousands of people across the country tried to do just that. Sadly, though, Gore’s words were more prescient than, perhaps, he realized.
The pro-democracy Arab Spring has been largely hijacked by Islamists. As a direct result of the popular pro-democracy uprising, the most populous country in the Middle East is now poised to elect a president who favors sharia. Mubarak was notoriously corrupt, but Egypt has leaped out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The Occupy movement isn’t being hijacked, because it has had anarchist theorists behind it from the beginning. But thousands of frustrated people are being co-opted by a movement they don’t understand.
We’ve been building important alliances and radicalized people in what they’re willing to endorse. . . . We pulled back from big civil disobedience plans this morning with the purpose of building stronger alliances.
In order to radicalize people in what they’re willing to endorse, in other words, you have to tone down the violence in the beginning.
But, in Seattle yesterday, even the toned-down version resulted, according to police, in “thousands and thousands” of dollars worth of damage.
As Seattle marchers passed the Federal Courthouse, “all hell broke loose,” according to David Madden, public information officer for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thugs smashed first-floor windows and double glass doors at the entrance, set a fire outside the entrance and pelted the building with paint balls.
Here’s video footage:
The marchers continued through downtown, smashing windows at Wells Fargo, HSBC, HomeStreet Bank and the Washington Athletic Club, as well as Niketown, American Apparel, Nordstrom, several Starbucks and other stores. They blocked traffic and damaged cars and buildings with paint, rocks, hammers and tire irons. They threw glass bottles and other objects at police. The Federal Courthouse closed early in the afternoon, as did a number of businesses.
Here’s more footage, starting at the courthouse and progressing through downtown. (Note the people in black; more on them later.)
According to the Police Department Blotter, police seized about 70 weapons from protesters, including metal sign poles, sharpened wooden stakes, screw-topped wooden staffs and a corrugated metal barrier with jagged edges.
If you’re thinking that peaceful demonstrators don’t show up with sharpened wooden stakes, you’re right.
The Puget Sound Anarchists website has an announcement about the Cascadian Anarchist Olympics, held in Olympia two weekends ago. The three-day Anarchist Olympics were designed to “better prepare us all for success and safety on the streets, on May Day and beyond.”
Saturday and Sunday mornings, we will be doing a series of presentations and hands-on workshops aimed at sharing skills and knowledge that will help us fight and win both on and off the streets, such as cell phone security, tear gas defense, and more. Saturday and Sunday afternoons will be mock competitions, including speed consensus, slingshot target practice, team de-blocing and more.
I’ve participated in many demonstrations, but I’ve never needed to learn tear gas defense. Or slingshot target practice. Or team de-blocing.
First you have to know about black blocs. Here’s Mike Castleman, software technologist and part-time anarchist, to explain them:
The Black Bloc is a tactic that has been used in demonstrations for years. It is used as a security and safety measure. In it’s[sic] essential form, each participant of a Black Bloc wears somewhat of a uniform (see the Clothing section). The idea of wearing this uniform is that if every single person in the Bloc looks relatively alike, it is hard for the police to determine which individual did what. For instance, if a Black Bloc participant throws a brick at a store window and runs into the Bloc, she will easily blend in with everyone else. However, if a person wearing normal street clothes happens [sic] to throw a brick and run into the Bloc, chances are that she will have been filmed or photographed and later caught by the police.
De-blocing, according to Castleman, is simply changing your clothes and blending into the crowd after having done bad things.
These are people who came to yesterday’s Occupy Seattle-sponsored General Strike trained and intending to do violence to people and property.
Co-opting the frustrated but inchoate masses is an old tactic. The Bolsheviks used it in 1917. The Islamists used it in the Arab Spring. And anarchists are using it now. Occupiers and their supporters–including Al Gore and friends–are at a crossroads. They can break with a movement in bed with–indeed begun by–anarchists who want to destroy what they can’t have. Or they can share in the responsibility for the violence done and the violence to come.
Which is it going to be?