Posts Tagged ‘Chris Hedges’


Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Chris Hedges’ series on RT, “On Contact with Chris Hedges,” has a new episode titled “The Fatal Addiction.” In it, Hedges does a fine job of presenting the human cost — the heartache, the deaths (50,000 last year in the U.S.) — caused by opioid addiction and overdoses.

While he succeeds at that, he doesn’t deal with the causes of addiction, nor with the failed, dominant approaches to curbing drug addiction, nor with better approaches. (Of course, it’s too much to expect any of this in a half-hour documentary, and one hope Hedges will deal with these matters in future episodes.)

Since “The Fatal Addiction” doesn’t tackle these issues, we will here. Please consider the following:

  • The dominant view of addiction in the U.S. is that it’s both a result of moral failings and is a “disease” or “illness.” (See AA’s “Big Book.”) This is  wrong on both counts, which can be easily seen when you look at historical addiction and overdose rates. They’re not steady, but vary dramatically over time.

Opioid overdose deaths have multiplied tenfold over the last two decades in the U.S.; reported rates of alcoholism have also fluctuated considerably over the years; the rate of tobacco addiction has plummeted in recent decades; and 95% of American soldiers who were addicted to heroin in Vietnam kicked it without treatment after they came home.

If addiction was caused by moral “shortcomings” (see AA’s 12 steps), one might ask whether former tobacco addicts became more moral over the years, whether morality skyrocketed among heroin-addicted Vietnam vets after they returned home, and whether the spiking opioid addiction rate has been caused by a mass outbreak of individual immorality.

If addiction is a “disease,” not a behavior, as we’re constantly told by 12-step treatment professionals, 12-stepping celebrities, and reporters who accept that absurd assertion at face value and who haven’t done their jobs (investigating, analyzing, raising awkward questions), one might ask the following: Why would the rates of addiction to different substances vary so radically from one substance to another in the same time periods, why would the rates of addiction to single substances vary so radically over time, and what does disease “theory” predict about rates of addiction in the years ahead?

Disease “theory” advocates have no answers to these questions, because disease “theory” is a “theory” only in the popular sense of the word (a conjecture or wild guess). In a word, it’s an assertion. It is in no way a scientific theory, and hence cannot provide answers; its adherents cannot use it to generate testable (falsifiable) predictions.

The dominant 12-step view of addiction (that it results from moral shortcomings and is a “disease”) is very, very wrong.

(As for the actual roots of addiction, one can look to psychological factors — stress and hopelessness, to oversimplify — and the environmental factors contributing to stress and hopelessness. I dealt with this in a separate post, “AA, the War on Drugs, and Disastrous Misconceptions,” so I’ll leave the matter here.)

  • As for AA and the treatment approaches derived from AA with its incorrect assertions about “moral” failings and “disease,” they’re every bit as ineffective as you’d expect.

Twelve-step groups such as AA and its clones (NA, CA, etc.) produce results no better than the rate of spontaneous remission, as shown by the best available studies: studies with control groups and random assignment of subjects, mass-participation longitudinal studies, and AA’s own triennial surveys. I summarized this evidence in “Alcoholics Anonymous Is Not Effective,” so again I’ll leave this matter here.

The formal (“professional”) 12-step treatment programs derived from AA are just as ineffective as AA itself. (I haven’t put up anything about this on the blog, but deal with the matter at length in Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

One telling segment in Chris Hedges’ documentary is with an interviewee who mentions an addict who’s been in and out of rehab 17 times, which the interviewee says is typical. (The numerous 12-step references in the documentary [“meetings,” “sponsors,” “recovering addicts”] are equally typical.)

Clearly, the dominant American approaches to addiction aren’t working. Why, beyond faulty “moral failings” / “disease” premises?

  • For one thing, we’ve been stuck with the authoritarian, worse-than-useless “war on drugs” and the criminalization of addicts and recreational drug users for decades. This has resulted in untold suffering and incredible waste of tax money (easily $1 trillion over the years, and currently a good $50 to $70 billion per year).  Criminalization has ruined countless lives to no good effect, and it’s been utterly ineffective at reducing drug use and addiction. If you doubt this, consider the number of opioid overdose deaths over the years, that hard drugs are freely available to almost anyone who wants them (see Hedges’ “The Fatal Addiction“), and have become both cheaper and more powerful as the “war on drugs” has ground on.

So, what does work? What will reduce drug use, addiction rates, and deaths from overdoses?

  • On the purely personal level, the only treatment approaches with good evidence of efficacy are cognitive behavioral therapy approaches. (I deal with this in the final paragraphs of “Alcoholics Anonymous Is Not Effective.”)

I should note that methadone “treatment” merely substitutes a legal synthetic narcotic for illegal narcotics; this is substitution, not treatment — it keeps users dependent on an addictive substance.

  • On the societal level, it’s obvious that the “war on drugs” and criminalization of drug users and addicts must be abandoned.

Not only has criminalization of drug users and addicts failed to reduce the rates of drug use and drug addiction, it has taken an incredible human and economic toll. It’s done nothing to reduce the availability nor the price of drugs. And it’s a major component of “big government” intrusion into the lives of individuals.

Criminalization of drugs and drug users has been an utter disaster.

(Those who profit from the enslavement of “war on drugs” prisoners might disagree.)

Criminalization of drugs and their users is in large part directly responsible for the tens of thousands of overdose deaths every year in the U.S. Why? There is no quality control with illegal drugs. Those who buy them (especially opioids) are quite literally gambling with their lives, and multitudes lose that gamble every year.

So, is legalization (or at least decriminalization) a better approach?

Yes.

In Portugal, where drug use was decriminalized in 2001, the rate of death from overdoses has plummeted, as shown in a recent Washington Post article, “Why hardly anyone dies from a drug overdose in Portugal.” The rate of opioid addiction has fallen in half. Portuguese taxpayers aren’t paying ungodly amounts of money annually to lock up drug users and drug addicts. And Big Brother isn’t intruding (or at least intruding less) into one aspect of the lives of individuals.

  • Finally, here’s a question that almost no one asks, and even fewer try to answer: Why do millions of Americans feel so stressed, so hopeless that they drink themselves to death or play Russian Roulette with hard drugs?

The answer to that question has been available for decades.


Fr. Fish Donald Trump graphic

“Donald Trump is the face of our collective idiocy. He is what lies behind the mask of our professed civility and rationality—a sputtering, narcissistic, bloodthirsty megalomaniac. He wields armies and fleets against the wretched of the earth, blithely ignores the catastrophic human misery caused by global warming, pillages on behalf of global oligarchs and at night sits slack-jawed in front of a television set before opening his “beautiful” Twitter account. He is our version of the Roman emperor Nero . . .”

–Chris Hedges, “Reign of Idiots


Fr. Fish Donald Trump graphic

Here’s one from our new favorite editorial cartoonist, Mr. Fish, over at Truthdig, our new favorite news and analysis site. We don’t agree with everything they publish, but damn! do they post some insightful material. Their two founders, journalists Chris Hedges and Robert Scheer, are profiles in courage and national treasures.


“Liberals have no moral authority to preach to a dispossessed white working class about racism, multiculturalism, identity politics or diversity. The abject failure by liberals to fight for economic justice triggered the protofascist backlash embodied by Donald Trump’s election victory.”

–Chris Hedges, “We Are All Deplorables,” on Truthdig

(in which Hedges gets it exactly right about what’s wrong with the Democratic Party and the “limousine liberal,” identity-politics corporate sellouts who control it and who have systematically betrayed working people for decades)


Anarcho-Syndicalist ReviewAnarcho-Syndicalist Review just published a nice review of the new Anarchist Cookbook in their Fall 2016 issue. Here’s the full review:

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The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe. See Sharp Press, 2015, 154 pp. [8.5″X11″], $19.95.

This book was released as a refutation of the earlier book of the same title, which (in addition to its bad politics and dangerous recipes has repeatedly been used by police to entrap people on terrorism charges. Its first 89 pages briefly discuss anarchist theory and ‘recipes for social change’ such as organizing events (a practical, detailed section that any novice should find helpful), blockades and occupations. Part III opens with a discussion of the politics of food before offering 24 pages of vegan recipes, many suited for large crowds. Chris Hedges’ introduction offers a sympathetic appraisal of the anarchist tradition, stressing (as does the book as a whole) the movement’s fundamentally nonviolent nature.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverThe book is grounded in Food Not Bombs’ practice of activist feeding, but also draws on See Sharp’s library of anarchist pamphlets. Part One distinguishes anarchism from terrorism, primitivism, chaos, rejection of (non-coercive) organization, amoral egotism, and the right-wing has co-opted as capitalist-friendly ‘libertarianism.’ An excerpt from the classic You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship reminds us that revolution is fundamentally about organizing people to create a new society.

The practical nature of the book emerges in its second half. There is extensive and sensible discussion of provocateurs and informants, some of who have lured FNB volunteers into long prison terms. Brief chapters offer steps on organizing meetings, a consensus flow chart (FNB has always been fond of this profoundly anti-democratic decision-making process), promoting local events, and convening a gathering. There are useful tips for novices on public outreach, such as how to pack a literature table’s contents, and why rocks (police can accuse one of stocking them as weapons) are not as good as rubber bands to secure flyers.

McHenry believes that conscious eating brings people together to live more lightly off the land. Community is formed as we meet and eat together. So he offers recipes for small groups of five or six, many of which can be expanded to feed 100. The recipes are generally simple, hard to mess up (necessary if volunteers unused to working with each other are doing the cooking), and filling.

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Anarcho-Syndicalist Review is always well worth reading. The cover article in this issue, “The Cult of Che,” is worth the price of the entire magazine. Subscriptions are $15 for three issues. and the address is ASR, P.O. Box 42531, Philadelphia, PA 19101. Their web site is at http://www.syndicalist.us.

 


Sheldon Wolin

“The crucial element that sets off inverted totalitarianism from Nazism is that while the latter imposed a regime of mobilization upon its citizenry, inverted totalitarianism works to depoliticize its citizens, thus paying a left-handed compliment to the prior experience of democratization. Where the Nazis strove to give the masses a sense of collective power and confidence, Kraft durch Freude (or ‘strength through joy’), the inverted regime promotes a sense of weakness, collective futility that culminates in the erosion of the democratic faith, in political apathy and the privatization of the self. Where the Nazis wanted a continuously mobilized society that would support its masters without complaint and enthusiastically vote ‘yes’ at the managed plebiscites, the elite of inverted totalitarianism wants a politically demobilized society that hardly votes at all.”

–Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision, quoted by Chris Hedges in “Shut Down the Democratic National Convention


Dummy 3 flat 72-small(From The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, introduction by Chris Hedges. The book shipped from the printer on Tuesday and will be available in bookstores and from online booksellers by the end of next week.)

by Keith McHenry

The popular graffiti tag “Anarchy is love” speaks to the roots of revolutionary action, action taken by those seeking to make anarchism real. As we seek to replace coercive, hierarchical organizations with positive, life-affirming projects such as info shops, community gardens, worker-managed collectives, free schools, and other do-it-yourself efforts, we must organize against coercion, exploitation, and domination in all their forms.

Nonviolent resistance and noncooperation are probably the most effective ways to achieve long-lasting, positive social change. There is dignity in nonviolent resistance, a dignity needed to sustain change. To be effective, it is often necessary to have large numbers of supporters and to be persistent. Your intentions should be clear to both the institutions resisting change and the people you intend to attract as supporters. Honesty and truth are your most important allies. While often difficult, compassion and respect for your opponents, combined with truth and honesty, are essential to undermining the power of even the most ruthless and inhumane institutions. The longer and more violent the repression, the harder it is to remain compassionate, but by retaining your integrity in the face of extreme conditions you will often attract increased popular support and weaken the resolve of those hired to stop your efforts. Participants in nonviolent resistance will increase their feelings of empowerment and pride the longer they remain dedicated to nonviolence.

Nonviolence is not just a theory; it means responding to injustice with action. Nonviolence should not be confused with inaction. Withholding support and refusing to cooperate with institutions and policies of violence, exploitation and injustice is a principal tactic of nonviolent resistance.

Just because participants are dedicated to nonviolence, you can’t expect the authorities to restrain their violence. Often the state will increase its violence if it believes your campaign is succeeding, but as repression grows so will your support. What might seem like months, maybe years of failure can change suddenly.

San Francisco Food Not Bombs (FNB) persisted in sharing food every week for seven years of near daily arrests that became violent due to the police; and, in 1995, the local media, which had been very critical of FNB, finally started ridiculing city officials for wasting money and resources on stopping our meals for the homeless. Their reports reflected the perspective of their corporate owners and politicians in San Francisco who came to see it was not possible to stop Food Not Bombs. Our persistence and dedication to nonviolence attracted public support. Our volunteers would not give up, knowing that, if we did, future efforts to silence Food Not Bombs groups in other cities were more likely.

The San Francisco police officers hired to arrest and beat us withdrew their support for the campaign against Food Not Bombs and started to see themselves as allies of our volunteers against those ordering the repression. Seven years of building relationships with the officers caused the department leaders to first issue an order to “stop fraternizing” with our volunteers, and once it became clear that they could not count on their patrol men and women to continue arresting and beating us with enough enthusiasm, they called off the whole project. The officers grew to see we were honest, caring people and not anti-American criminals bent on disobeying the law out of self-interest, as they had been told by their superiors.

Corporate and government leaders ended their repressive campaign in order to protect their illusion of control; worried that if it became clear to the public that our persistence and relationships with the police had worked, more sectors of the community might have withdrawn support for their authority. Imagine if the patrol officers were perceived by the public as refusing orders. What would be next?

It is extremely important that we act in a manner which is consistent with our values. We want a future without violence and exploitation. Means determine ends. It is never in our interest to use violence against the police or others.

Campaigns of violence, even against the most unethical opponents, can be very disempowering and, even if successful will usually install new institutions that rely on violence to protect their authority. If power changes hands after a campaign of nonviolence, it is more likely that the new institutions will have popular support and maintain their power through consent of the people.

On the practical side, the dominant power usually can muster significantly more violent force than we can. The authorities strive to engage their opponents in realms where they have the advantage, notably armed conflict. But, more philosophically, we don’t want to use power for domination in our efforts for social change. Imagine if San Francisco Food Not Bombs adopted a strategy of throwing rocks at the police when they came to arrest us. Instead of the public understanding our message that the government and corporations are intentionally redirecting resources toward the military while letting thousands go without food, the impression would have been that the police were justified in using violence to protect themselves and the community from criminals who have no respect for the public, let alone for the police. (The media reported extensively for years about how violent our volunteers were after several frustrated activists tossed bagels over a line of riot police to hungry people blocked from getting to the food.) We want to create a society based upon human rights and human needs, not dependent on the threat and use of violence. We do not want to dominate. We want to seek the truth and support each other as we work to resolve conflicts without violence.

University of Denver political science professor Erica Chenoweth, co-author with Maria J. Stephan of the book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, was surprised to find that “campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts.” She, like many others, assumed that the most effective way to topple dictatorships and other repressive regimes is to use military tactics.
Chenoweth’s and Stephan’s research showed that “uprisings were 50 percent more likely to fail if they turn to violence.”

Washington Post reporter Max Fisher put it like this:

Political scientist Erica Chenoweth used to believe, as many do, that violence is the most reliable way to get rid of a dictator. History is filled, after all, with coups, rebellions and civil wars. She didn’t take public protests or other forms of peaceful resistance very seriously; how could they possibly upend a powerful, authoritarian regime?

A nonviolent uprising can evolve into long lasting change since its power comes from popular support and participation of a substantial number of people. It was once believed that it would take the participation of at least 5% of the population to force change, but Chenoweth and Stephan found that in most uprisings since 1900 it took only 3.5% of the population to bring down a dictator.

Their research also showed that when a government changed hands through the use of violence, the new government turned to violence to stay in power. Using violence to take power often reduces popular support, and so increases the “need” for more violence.

Chenoweth believes that “a violent uprising is more physically demanding and dangerous and thus scares off participants, but I’d add that violence is controversial and can engender sympathy for police and soldiers at the other end of dissidents’ rifles.”

She tells the Washington Post that “The data shows the number may be lower than that [3.5%]. No single campaign in that period failed after they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population.” She adds, “But get this: every single campaign that exceeded that 3.5% point was a nonviolent one. The nonviolent campaigns were on average four times larger than the average violent campaigns.”

Public support for Occupy Oakland was at an all time high after 26-year-old Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was nearly killed on October 25, 2011 by Oakland police who deliberately fired a tear gas canister into his head. The Oakland city council even scheduled a special meeting to vote on a proposal to endorse the occupation. Support vanished overnight after people claiming to support “diversity of tactics” vandalized Whole Foods and several local small businesses on November 2, 2011.

Rebecca Solnit’s November 2011 essay, “Throwing Out the Master’s Tools and Building a Better House: Thoughts on the Importance of Nonviolence in the Occupy Revolution,” describes her decades of activism and her direct experience of radical anarchist successes being derailed by macho acts of violence.

Solnit participated in the “N30” protests that blockaded the World Trade Organization Ministerial Summit in Seattle in 1999. She writes, “To shut down the whole central city of Seattle and the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting on November 30, 1999, or the business district of San Francisco for three days in March of 2003, or the Port of Oakland on November 2, 2011—through people power—is one hell of a great way to stand up. It works. And it brings great joy and sense of power to those who do it.” She could have also mentioned the week-long blockade of the San Francisco federal building during the first Gulf War, which she also participated in.

Anarchists in places around the world, including Zagreb and Manila, have asked me if I participated in the “heroic black bloc” assault on the windows of Starbucks and Nike during the 1999 Seattle protest. They were surprised to learn that we shut down the WTO summit despite those “heroic” assaults. They had never heard of the years of organization or the Direct Action Network and its pledge of nonviolent action, and the months of nonviolence preparations that went into shutting down the WTO meeting.

Anarchist and New York Times best-selling author Starhawk wrote an essay called “How We Really Shut Down the WTO.” She writes about seeing news of the protests after having been freed from the King County jail:

The reports have pontificated endlessly about a few broken windows, and mostly ignored the Direct Action Network, the group that successfully organized the nonviolent direct action that ultimately involved thousands of people. The true story of what made the action a success is not being told.

Food Not Bombs organized the UnFree Trade Tour in 1997 visiting 60 cities in North America explaining the dangers of the WTO and advocating a mass mobilization to shut it down if it ever held a ministerial meeting in North America. A year later the WTO announced it would meet in Seattle in November 1999, and the organizing started in earnest with formation of the Direct Action Network. Organizers came to consensus to present a pledge to participants to take nonviolent action. Activists agreed to “refrain from violence, physical or verbal, not to carry weapons, not to
bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol, and not to destroy property.”

Starhawk notes:

We were asked to agree only for the purpose of the 11/30 action—not to sign on to any of these as a life philosophy, and the group acknowledged that there is much diversity of opinion around some of these guidelines.

She goes on to say:

In the weeks and days before the blockade, thousands of people were given nonviolence training—a three hour course that combined the history and philosophy of nonviolence with real life practice through role plays in staying calm in tense situations, using nonviolent tactics, responding to brutality, and making decisions together. Thousands also went through a second-level training in jail preparation, solidarity strategies and tactics and legal aspects. As well, there were first aid trainings, trainings in blockade tactics, street theater, meeting facilitation, and other skills.

Rebecca Solnit’s response to the black bloc attack on local businesses in Oakland in 2011 comments on the literature within the anarchist community glorifying violence. She writes:

CrimethInc, whose logo is its name inside a bullet, doesn’t actually cite examples of violence achieving anything in our recent history. Can you name any? The anonymous writers don’t seem prepared to act, just tell others to (as do the two most high-profile advocates of violence on the left).

Solnit continues:

CrimethInc issued a screed in justification of violence that circulated widely in the Occupy movement. It’s titled “Dear Occupiers: A Letter from Anarchists,” though most anarchists I know would disagree with almost everything that follows. Midway through it declares, “Not everyone is resigned to legalistic pacifism; some people still remember how to stand up for themselves. Assuming that those at the front of clashes with the authorities are somehow in league with the authorities is not only illogical . . . It is typical of privileged people who have been taught to trust the authorities and fear everyone who disobeys them. . . .”

[D]espite the smear quoted above that privileged people oppose them, theirs is the language of privilege. White kids can do crazy shit and get slapped on the wrist or maybe slapped around for it . . . [Those with skin of a a different] color face far more dire consequences.

As do families with children and older people who are in danger when the black bloc provides the opportunity for the authorities to use violence—with the blessing of a public disturbed by images of rampaging thugs.

Anarchists dedicated to nonviolent direct action are not opposed to all forms of property damage. It can be an effective strategy if the decision to do it involves all participants, the target chosen is one that will guarantee no one who is not part of the action could be injured, and the method used does not frighten the public. If those participating also take credit and destroy property that is clearly injurious, that sends a clear message to both those who are being targeted and the public; that type of property damage can be empowering to those participating in it and can serve as an inspiration to those you want to join you.

A simple example is the Food Not Bombs actions taken the night of August 19th and at lunch time on August 20, 1981. Food Not Bombs shared vegan meals outside a weapons bazaar at Boston University the day after we spray-painted the outline of “dead” bodies on the ground, stenciled mushroom clouds with the word “Today?” and wheat-pasted “War is Murder for Profit” posters along the route that the weapons buyers and sellers would take from their hotel to the conference hall. We stood outside the conference holding poster boards with the mushroom cloud image that we had stenciled dozens of times outside the Student Union and along Commonwealth Avenue, taking credit for hundreds of dollars in graffiti damage to Boston University’s property. Who did this frighten into the arms of the state? No one.

Solnit explains anarchist support of property damage this way:

I want to be clear that property damage is not necessarily violence. The firefighter breaks the door to get the people out of the building. But the husband breaks the dishes to demonstrate to his wife that he can and may also break her. It’s violence displaced onto the inanimate as a threat to the animate. Quietly eradicating experimental GMO crops or pulling up mining claim stakes is generally like the firefighter. Breaking windows during a big demonstration is more like the husband. I saw the windows of a Starbucks and a Niketown broken in downtown Seattle after nonviolent direct action had shut the central city and the World Trade Organization ministerial down. I saw scared-looking workers and knew that the CEOs and shareholders were not going to face that turbulence and they sure were not going to be the ones to clean it up. Economically it meant nothing to them.

French farmer and anti-globalization activist José Bové has taken part in several actions involving property damage during campaigns of nonviolent resistance. Bové declared, “I am an anarcho-syndicalist. I am closer to Bakunin than Marx. My references are the Jura Federation in the First International in the [19th] century and the Spanish CNT of 1936.”

Bové participated an a nonviolent direct action destroying genetically engineered maize in a grain silo in Nérac in the department of Lot-et-Garonne, France. At his trial he stated, “Today, I am present in this court together with Rene Riese and Francois Roux, accused of committing a serious crime according to the law. The alleged crime is the destruction of sacks of genetically modified maize [corn]. Yes, on January 8, I participated in the destruction of genetically modified maize, which was stored in Novartis’ grain silos in Nerac. And the only regret I have now is that I wasn’t able to destroy more of it.”

On August 12, 1999 Bové participated with activists from the Confédération Paysanne, the second largest farmers’ union in France, in the “dismantling” of a McDonald’s franchise that was under construction in Millau, Aveyron, France. Bové was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for his role in the destruction. He was imprisoned for 44 days and released on August 1, 2002. The actions of the Confédération Paysanne helped bring global attention to the policies of the World Trade Organization and neoliberal structural adjustment/economic austerity programs. Over 40,000 people attended the trial of Bové and his co-defendants.

Anarchism is fundamentally about collective action using the nonhierarchical process of consensus in the decision-making process to include all those affected. Actions such as those taken by the black bloc cannot by design be agreed to by all those who are affected. Rather, they’re imposed on other participants in actions.

Solnit writes:

The euphemism for violence is “diversity of tactics,” perhaps because diversity has been a liberal-progressive buzzword these past decades. But diversity does not mean that anything goes and that democratic decision making doesn’t apply.

I participated in the protests against the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008. While staffing the Food Not Bombs table I witnessed two white vans arrive in Civic Center Park in the early evening of August 25, unloading twelve buff men in black Obama for President t-shirts, black pants, and black bandanas covering their crewcuts. Two of these men had a knapsack. The vans drove away leaving the 12 “black bloc” men. They divided into two groups, one headed to the west side of the protesters preparing to march to the convention and the other six went to the east end of the gathering. I followed those walking to the west side and was joined by a reporter from the Denver Post. He asked me if I thought they were policemen. I told him that I just saw them get out of two vans driven by uniformed officers.

Before long the “black bloc” on the west side was taunting the riot police. Then all of a sudden they turned and rushed into the crowd and seconds later the riot police started firing pepper spay, mace, and other crowd control weapons into the protesters. Riot police surrounded the march along a one-block stretch of 15th Street between Court and Cleveland. A total of 96 people were arrested that evening. I spoke with a woman who watched the protest on her local Fox TV station, and she felt the arrests were justified because of how violent the black bloc had been, throwing stones through windows and taunting the police. When the arrests started I returned to the Food Not Bombs table. The twelve “black bloc” men arrived soon after and stood before me talking. After about ten minutes the two white vans returned and the “black bloc” climbed in and the vans drove away from Civic Center Park. (This is not to say that the black bloc are police agents, just that their tactics make it very easy for police provocateurs to impersonate them and disrupt demonstrations.)

Some people who were not police agents joined them in their provocations. The domination, exploitation, and destruction of capitalism is brutal and it is not difficult for the state to encourage sensitive people to buy into the romantic vision of “revolutionary” resistance personified by the black bloc.

CrimethInc published a personal account of the Denver protests from a young person who attempted to join the black bloc:

Donning a black shirt and jeans, I raced down the street on my scooter, wind in my face, to catch up to my friend. It was the first day of the Democratic National Convention and we were running late for the black bloc protest in Civic Center Park. Having grown up in Denver, an overlooked bastion of liberalism in the Rockies, I never thought I would be able to get involved in a nationally publicized protest without moving to Washington D.C. or New York. This was the first major political action in which I had the chance to participate, and I wasn’t about to miss it.

Solnit’s essay on the Oakland assault on Whole Foods is pertinent here: “This account is by a protestor who also noted in downtown Oakland that day a couple of men with military-style haircuts and brand new clothes put bandanas over their faces and began to smash stuff.” She thinks that infiltrators might have instigated the property destruction, and Copwatch’s posted video seems to document police infiltrators at Occupy Oakland.

One way to make the work of provocateurs much more difficult is to be clearly committed to tactics that the state can’t co-opt: nonviolent tactics. If an infiltrator wants to nonviolently blockade or march or take out the garbage, well, that’s useful to us. If an infiltrator sabotages us by recruiting others to commit mayhem, that’s a comment on what such tactics are good for.

Solnit quotes Oakland Occupier Sunaura Taylor: “A few people making decisions that affect everyone else is not what revolution looks like; it’s what capitalism looks like.”

Peter Marshall’s book on the history of anarchism, Demanding the Impossible, points out that “The word violence comes from the Latin violare and etymologically means violation. Strictly speaking, to act violently means to treat others without respect … A violent revolution is therefore unlikely to bring about any fundamental change in human relations. Given the anarchists’ respect for the sovereignty of the individual, in the long run it is nonviolence and not violence which is implied by anarchist values.”