In Defense of the Diversity of Tactics
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
in his own words
In defence of the diversity of tactics
By Alex Hundert
March 1, 2010
Judy Rebick, from her office in downtown Toronto, complained that "when
a spontaneous anger against the Black Bloc emerged on social media,
people berated us for ‘dividing the movement.'" She says that, in fact,
"it is the Black Bloc that is dividing the movement."
She is wrong.
I have been involved in a wide array of coalitions on various issues
over the past half decade, and never have I witnessed cross-movement
solidarity like I have in the anti-Olympics campaign. In southern
Ontario, as in Vancouver, radical groups from a variety of locations in
the broader movement have come together to start to develop a shared
anti-colonial analysis. This solidarity and unity, on the anti-colonial
front, is deeper and stronger now than it has been at any point in the
last 10 years.
A strong example of that solidarity was on display during the Feb. 12th
"Take Back Our City" march. That event saw upwards of 2,000 people march
on BC Place during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, and was
led by indigenous women. When the march reached the police line outside
of BC Place that night, the cops started pushing and shoving the front
line. Indigenous women called for the Black Bloc to move to the front to
hold the line. When the elders amongst that leadership group decided
that the crush from the police was too much, the Black Bloc made space
for them to move to the back of the crowd.
Twenty-first-century anti-colonial analysis is one that is able to
identify commonalities between the struggles of the urban poor and those
of indigenous sovereigntists. Where colonization is ongoing against
First Nations, we are also able to see gentrification and the
criminalization of homelessness and poverty as a form of urban
colonialism. In Vancouver (and elsewhere) there is often no distinction
between indigenous sovereigntists and the urban poor; they are often the
This 21st-century analysis is finally moving beyond political
philosophies rooted in 19th- and 20th-century Eurocentric intellectual
traditions (such as those fostered by anarcho-socialists like Mick
Sweetman of Common Cause in Ontario, who still choose to see the world
through the lense of an industrial workers struggle). This new
anti-colonialism is one that seeks to push out the old colonial patterns
of European intellectualism to make space for fundamentally different
cultural ideas rooted in places other than Europe.
This 21st-century analysis is moving beyond the empty rhetoric of
"revolutionary acts." We no longer wish to seize the machinery of the
State to use it for our own ends; we wish to see it dismantled, to be
replaced by something other than a new Euro-American colonialism. A
better world than that is possible, but it cannot come about until we
move beyond the dominant paradigms of our culture. Statism and white
supremacy must be resigned to the dustbins of history.
Part of the strength of the anti-Olympic campaign, as a watershed for
the new anti-colonial movement, has been the solidarity and unity around
a "diversity of tactics." Part of that solidarity is rooted in the idea
that you cannot attack one part of the movement without attacking the
whole. When we remember to defend each other, we also remember to work
together to build the movement and our communities. This cannot be done
by succumbing to the classic colonial tactic of divide and conquer.
Diversity of tactics means that one day we smash the system and the next
we build alternatives. The Black Block is a wrecking ball tactic that
makes space for more mainstream or creative tactics. The anarchists who
participate in the Bloc are for the most part solid community organizers
and people who are at the forefront of making space for creative
alternatives to capitalism and colonialism. A diversity of tactics is
meant to be complimentary -- different tactics demonstrate different
values and objectives, and all must be viewed in sum.
The highlight of the anti-Olympic convergence in Vancouver, for me, has
been to see a coming together and mutual solidarity between Vancouver's
Downtown Eastside (DTES) and indigenous sovereigntists (and their
allies) -- two demographics whom have been especially under attack by
the Olympic and State machines. In fact, on the streets of Vancouver,
increasingly it would appear that the sovereigntists and the
anti-poverty activists are often the same people.
Working as allies, not just in a supporting role, have been a wide array
of activists from many sectors. Prominent amongst the organizers in the
Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) and throughout the convergence have
indeed been anarchists who participated in the Black Bloc actions during
the "Heart Attack" march on Feb. 13, 2010.
What Judy Rebick, and many other critics who have had little to do with
the anti-Olympic movement, have entirely failed to notice is the fact
that the Black Bloc was supported by almost every constituency of the
ORN. This show of solidarity was not divisive -- it brought us together
and has built deep trust between activists who, in the past, have often
had very little to say to each other.
Organizations that were publicly represented include (or had individual
members present and unmasked): No One Is Illegal, the Council of
Canadians, PETA, the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), StopWar.ca,
Gatewaysucks, the Vancouver Anti-Poverty Committee, Food Not Bombs, and
many more. None of those organizations have denounced the actions of the
Black Bloc that day. And they can't, because their members know that on
that day, they were there to support the Black Bloc. Anyone who says
that they didn't know what was going to happen is lying. There were 200
people in black with masks on, and "Riot 2010" has been a rallying call
for the movement for more than two years now. Everyone knew what was
going to happen, and they all marched anyway.
For Judy Rebick to claim that the Black Bloc had "come into the middle
of a demonstration with black face masks [to] break up whatever takes
their fancy when the vast majority of people involved don't want them
to," is either dishonest, or a sign that she has stopped paying
attention to what actually happens on the ground. The Black Bloc is not
dividing the movement -- people with aspirations for mainstream
acceptance who distance themselves from other activists are.
Judy Rebick is going to have to decide whether she wants to be a
celebrity, acceptable to the CBC and their mainstream audience, or work
on the ground with people who are fed up with capitalism, with
colonialism, and also with the paralyzing cult of non-violence. It is
time to realize that there are people who are ready to fight back, and
that it is time to support them.
Unarmed activists do battle
After the police clashed with the Bloc that day, and affinity groups
were forced to scatter (the Black Bloc doesn't do peaceful arrests --
the tactic dictates mutual protection from the police instead), the
majority of the "non-violent" marchers continued in support. Some of
them allowed themselves to be arrested by the frustrated police. Blaming
anyone other than the police for the conduct of the police is merely a
legitimization of the police presence on our streets -- it would be like
blaming the poor for the criminalization of homelessness. I expect
people to know better. Cops are no more than armed thugs-for-hire.
In fact, the willingness of unarmed activists to battle with heavily
armed riot cops, in order to de-arrest people they may have never met
before and may never be able to identify, is one of the strongest forms
of solidarity I have ever witnessed. We have to be willing to physically
protect our own communities, no matter the cost, by any means necessary.
This is the type of message that the Black Bloc sends. The point is that
we don't need or want your cops or your capitalist colonial system. The
point of such actions is not to convince bystanders or any particular
audience to join us in the streets. The point is to put people on notice
that there exists active insurrectionary resistance, right here in the
belly of the beast.
For Judy Rebick to suggest that Black Bloc tactics "put other people and
the issues we are fighting for in jeopardy," is just preposterous. The
mass audiences that dismissed the "Heart Attack" march are consistently
the same mass audiences who generally dismiss every form of direct
action and every radical cause. Judy may be too used to her celebrity
status to notice, but most people aren't paying attention to start with.
So-called "nonviolent direct action", with rare exceptions, is also
summarily dismissed by most people, most of the time. They want us to go
through so-called proper channels, not understanding that the system
exists to perpetuate itself, not to accommodate change or the
empowerment of communities under attack. Begging the government for
change merely legitimizes their claim to be the rightful authority over
land and people. Too many, enamoured with the cult of nonviolence, have
too easily parroted the conservative media narratives that so
predictably hamper our movements.
Further, it is not unity under a commitment to a "diversity of tactics"
that stifles debate within our movement -- that is what we call
solidarity. It is a zealous adherence to dogmatic "non-violence" that
shuts down any meaningful dialogue.
Making Canadians stop and think
An important point that nobody seems to have picked up on, is that the
targeting of the Hudson's Bay Company actually opened up space for
Canadians to stop and think about the colonial history of HBC, if only
briefly. Those citizens still capable of critical thought were left with
Two days after the "Heart Attack" march, there was an anti-poverty march
which was attended by many liberals and so-called progressives -- MP
Libby Davies, for example. A group broke off from that march, hopped the
fence to an empty lot (owned by condo developers, under lease by VANOC)
and cut the locks from the gates, opening them up for people to set up
the Olympic Tent Village which will still stand at least until the end
of the Olympics. Many activists who participated in the Black Bloc at
"Heart Attack" have been there ever since, volunteering almost around
the clock cooking meals, working security shifts, helping set up tents
and keeping them dry, working the medic tent, organizing new actions
with members of the DTES community. Meanwhile, more liberal folks (like
Dave Eby of the BCCLA) showed up once or twice for photo ops without
ever setting foot inside the camp or talking to any of the people
without homes whom they build their careers speaking on behalf of.
It is not the champions of civil liberties, the democratic reformers or
academics who are down at the Olympic Tent Village. While they are in
their offices, it is community organizers and radicals who are on the
ground working side by side with neighbourhood residents, participating
in real community building. At the Tent Village the State machine has
been shut out from the site. Inside, residents of the DTES are rising up.
I've been at the front gate doing security, for more hours than I have
not, over the past 10 days. In that time many conversations with
Vancouverites or Olympic tourists who pass by have turned to discussions
of the "violence" on the 13th. I have watched multiple individuals take
off their HBC red mittens and toss them in the garbage. While these
people may not take any further action, in the face of the gross poverty
on the DTES, they had no choice but to be ashamed. It was the broken
windows which identified HBC's Olympic merchandise as an appropriate
symbol to bear that shame.
Stella August, an indigenous elder and a member of the DTES Power of
Women group has publicly defended the Black Bloc's actions during "Heart
Attack." Those who have chosen to denounce the action without any
appreciation of the dynamics on the ground in Vancouver should be just
as ashamed as the people wearing those mittens.
People and communities are under attack and it is time to fight back. If
you're not willing to stand up and fight, or to support those who are,
please at least get out of the way.
Alex Hundert is an organiser with AW@L and the Kitchener-Waterloo
Community Centre for Social Justice. AW@L is a community-based direct
action group and part of the Six Nations Solidarity Network and the
Olympic Resistance Network-Ontario.
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