Posts Tagged ‘Nonviolent direct action’


With the events in Charlottesville still fresh in our minds, and with seemingly daily confrontations between neo-Nazis and anti-racists, the information and analysis Keith McHenry presents below couldn’t be more timely. It’s a reasonable bet to assume that the FBI will focus more on anti-racists than on white supremacists and neo-Nazi domestic terrorists, and will attempt to entrap anti-racists.

Even if the FBI, by some miracle, focuses on alt-right thugs, it’s still a certainty that they’ll continue to infiltrate leftist groups and will continue to attempt to entrap activists. If you’re a left political activist, please read on and understand what we’re up against.

Dummy 3 flat 72-small

(The following piece is from The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe — an actual cookbook written by anarchists which includes accurate information about anarchism and “recipes” for social change.)

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How to Avoid FBI Entrapment

by Keith McHenry

The government wastes millions, probably tens of millions, of dollars annually spying on and disrupting the anarchist movement. It wouldn’t waste all that money trying to stop us if it wasn’t worried that we might inspire resistance.

Even though most anarchists are dedicated to nonviolent direct action and many participate in useful projects such as infoshops, bicycle co-ops, and the sharing and growing of food, the police, state agencies, federal agencies, and military intelligence units in the United States routinely infiltrate anarchist groups, and government provocateurs have repeatedly attempted to entrap activists. For the most part, they’ve failed at that.

But unfortunately some activists have not only been arrested, but have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to years in prison.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies can and do frame or entrap anarchists to devastating effect, so it is important to do all you can to reduce the possibility of being set up on phony “terrorism” or other charges. Not only could you be removed from the community for many years, your family and friends would suffer through your ordeals in court and through the pain of knowing you are in prison. Defense activities also siphon off huge amounts of energy, time, and resources from the good work of building a better world.

Still it is not always possible to avoid being the target of the authorities, so take precautions to limit the damage if the state seeks to silence you. Taking actions that you can be proud of may be the most important single thing you can do. Think of the consequences of your acts. How will you feel if someone is injured or killed because of something you did? Could your actions be used to discredit the movement? Could they add to the divisions, fear, and paranoia in the community?

Don’t think that you can get away with risky, pointless actions. You’re not clairvoyant. The government targets even the most peaceful groups (including Quaker groups)  through its use of informers and provocateurs, and surveillance is unrelenting and omnipresent. So what can you do beyond carefully considering your actions and doing only things you feel good about?
You can take some simple steps to reduce the possibility of being arrested and prosecuted on phony charges. When people talk or joke about taking up arms, trashing communities, or bombing or burning down some place, speak loudly about how you would never participate in any action that could injure someone.

The fact that we know that we are not considering acts of terrorism can cause us to make light of statements about arson, bombings, and rock throwing, but the FBI and Homeland Security have sent infiltrators to political meetings to talk about using violence or property destruction, or initiated conversations while being wired to record conversations. Months later, out-of-context statements can appear as evidence that anarchists were plotting acts of terrorism. When the cases get to court, prosecutors and the media can point out that the accused activists didn’t object to the comments made by the informants, “proving” their guilt.

You can minimize the success of the state in harming you and your efforts by making it clear that you are not going to participate in acts of violence or destructive sabotage. (They’re not the same: violence involves damage to people or animals; sabotage involves—sometimes, not always—damage to property.) If you are planning to damage property, consider making your intentions clear in advance by offering a public explanation of your actions. Examples could include pulling up genetically modified crops or dismantling the separation wall in Palestine, actions designed to stop an egregious harm. At the same time you can refrain from giving the exact time or location of your plans so that the authorities will have at least some difficulty blocking your actions. While you may still be accused of taking part in a “terrorist” plot, you will have much more popular support, and you’ll make the authorities’ “terrorism” accusations less credible.

You can make your positions clear in your literature, statements to the media, at meetings, social gatherings, and during informal conversations. If people are joking about using violence or talking about the virtues of acts that could injure or kill people, it is wise to make several statements making it clear that you will not engage in any kind of violent activity. Point out that you are dedicated to nonviolent direct action and that anyone considering any other strategies or methods should talk elsewhere.

It once was possible to use the defense of entrapment, but that is no longer the case. Vice News contributor Natasha Lennard’s article, “The Line Between FBI Stings and Entrapment Has Not Blurred, It’s Gone,” makes this quite clear.

In her introduction to the Human Rights Watch report, “Illusions of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” Andrea Prasow said that “Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US . . . But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.” While this report focuses on the entrapment and framing of people in the Muslim community, anarchists in the United States have also been targeted, as described in the report.

Natasha Lennard writes:

Since 9/11, Muslims in the US have been the focus of major counterterror stings. But other groups have been caught in the net where sting meets entrapment. A small group of self-identified anarchists in Cleveland were all convicted and sentenced to around 10 years in prison for allegedly plotting to blow up a bridge in Ohio. But an FBI infiltrator provided the target and the fake C-4 explosives. Rick Perlstein wrote of the case in Rolling Stone, ‘the alleged terrorist masterminds end up seeming, when the full story comes out, unable to terrorize their way out of a paper bag without law enforcement tutelage.

The case of entrapment in Cleveland provides concrete examples of what activists should watch out for. The FBI sent an informant, Shaquille Azir or “Kalvin Jackson,” to the kitchen at Occupy Cleveland on October 21, 2011, seeking to build a relationship with some of the cooks.
FBI Special Agent Ryan M. Taylor filed Federal Complaint 1:12-mj-3073 regarding the matter. The government presented it at the defendants’ May 1, 2012 arraignment; it details how the entrapment worked. It’s a stark warning to anyone who might be a target of the FBI. In sections 8 and 9, the FBI admits to using a Confidential Human Source (CHS) and Undercover Employee (UCE) to encourage acts of terrorism:

8. The (CHS) Confidential Human Source hereinafter has been working as a source for the FBI since July 20, 2011. The CHS has a criminal record including one conviction for possession of cocaine in 1990, one conviction for robbery in 1991, and four convictions for passing bad checks between 1991 and 2011. The CHS is currently on probation in Cuyahoga and Lorain Counties for passing bad checks. Since July 20, 2011, the CHS has been paid approximately $5,750 for services and $550 for expenses, the CHS has not been paid since beginning her/his probation.

9. The (UCE) Undercover Employee has been employed by the FBI for over 15 years and has been working in an undercover capacity for 10 years. The UCE has received ongoing training in conducting undercover investigations and has participated in dozens of investigations in an undercover capacity.

Section 12 suggests the FBI was seeking anarchists to frame at Occupy Cleveland.

12. Based on an initial report of potential criminal activity and threats involving anarchists who would be attending an event held by a protest group, the Cleveland FBI directed the CHS to attend that event. On October 21, 2011, at approximately 6:30 pm, and while the CHS was attending the event, the CHS identified four suspicious males with walkie-talkie radios around their necks. Three of the four men had masks or something covering their faces; one male did not. The men were wearing black or dark colored shirts, had black backpacks, carried the anarchist flags and acted differently than the other people in attendance.

Section 29 shows that informant Shaquille Azir was recording meetings for the FBI and claimed that one of those targeted, Michael Wright, had talked of making smoke bombs from a recipe taken from the William Powell book titled The Anarchist Cookbook (NOT this Anarchist Cookbook).

(In a separate case, according to a terrorism complaint filed in Brooklyn in April 2015, FBI informants provided Asia Siddiqui and Noelle Velentzas with copies of the Powell book on November 2, 2014, circling the types of bombs the government thought would help build their case.)

29. On March 22, 2012, the CHS was provided a body recorder [and] consensually recorded a meeting between the CHS and WRIGHT. In sum and substance, WRIGHT described using an upcoming festival as an opportunity to create a civil distraction in order to commit a larger act of violence. WRIGHT also discussed making smoke bombs and other explosive destructive devices using the ‘Anarchist Cookbook,’ a book that describes the construction and use of weapons and explosives. The following are some of the relevant excerpts from that conversation:

Sections 97 and 98 show that phone calls and conversations were recorded a couple of days before the FBI-engineered May Day fake bombing:

97. On April 29, 2012, the UCE recorded a telephone call with WRIGHT. In sum and substance WRIGHT said that he would call the UCE around 1:30 pm to give the UCE the exact meeting location, however it was in the Warrensville Heights, Ohio area.

98. On April 29, 2012, the CHS was provided with a body recorder and consensually recorded a meeting with the UCE and WRIGHT, BAXTER, and HAYNE.

In Section 110 of the federal complaint, the FBI admits that the alleged criminal activity that they were investigating amounted to no more than “smoke grenades and destruction of signage on buildings in downtown Cleveland”:

110. WRIGHT recruited BAXTER, C.S. and the CHS to participate in some form of direct action, initially involving smoke grenades and destruction of signage on buildings in downtown Cleveland;” Erick Trickey of Cleveland Magazine noted that defendant Connor Stevens expressed support for nonviolent direct action.

On a Saturday in April, about three weeks before his arrest, Stevens served dinner in Market Square with Food Not Bombs. He got talking with fellow volunteer Aidan Kelly about Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which an American joins the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War to fight a fascist uprising, and is assigned to dynamite a bridge. “I remember distinctly talking about his ideas about pacifism,” Kelly says. He and Stevens agreed that movements such as Food Not Bombs offered a better alternative for creating social change than violence.

Trickey writes of the first meeting of Stevens and co-defendant Brandon Baxter, a meeting like those you may have had if you travel in anarchist circles.

At Food Not Bombs last year, Stevens met another young anarchist, Brandon Baxter, as intense and passionate as Stevens was cerebral.

The 19-year-old Lakewood High graduate’s influences weren’t long-dead, bearded writers, but websites ranging from the far right (the conspiracy-minded InfoWars) to the far left (the Anonymous “hacktivist” movement). He embraced Food Not Bombs with gusto, screaming “Free food!” across Market Square when dinner was ready.

Yet the FBI claims that Wright downloaded Powell’s version of the Anarchist Cookbook with the purpose of making a bomb, which would have been a good trick given that to all appearances Powell’s book has never been sold in e-book format.

111. WRIGHT repeatedly asserted he downloaded the ‘Anarchist Cookbook’ in an attempt to learn how to make explosives including constructing plastic explosives from bleach and other household items; . . .

The complaint finally shows that the FBI was moving their own plot along by providing the defendants with phony C4.

112. When presented with the opportunity to purchase C4, WRIGHT and BAXTER met with an individual offering it for sale;

Michael Winter of USA Today reported that “Three self-described anarchists were sentenced to prison Tuesday for trying to blow up a highway bridge between Cleveland and Akron using dummy explosives provided by an undercover FBI agent.”

Ed Meyer of the Akron Beacon Journal wrote that “U.S. District Judge David D. Dowd, Jr. rejected the government’s insistence that the defendants get 30 years in prison and instead gave Douglas L. Wright 11½ years, Brandon L. Baxter nine years and nine months and Connor C. Stevens eight years and one month.”

Both of Stevens’ parents, James and Gail Stevens, lashed out at the government’s actions.

“My son is guilty, and so are you!” James Stevens told federal prosecutor Duncan Brown at one point. Gail Stevens called her son “my hero,” said she loved him with all her heart, and that he never would have acted as he did if not for the provocateur.

The entrapment of the young Occupy anarchists in Cleveland was the most dramatic attempt to discredit the Occupy movement. And it worked—with the help of some protesters who played into the hands of the police.

Efforts to re-energize the movement failed as the media reported on a wave of Occupy-related violence. Reuters reported:

Occupy Wall Street protesters smashed windows in Seattle, fled police on scooters through the streets of New York, and clashed with officers in Oakland on Tuesday in a May Day effort to revive the movement against economic injustice with demonstrations around the United States. . . .

New York police reported 10 instances of harmless white powder—apparently meant to raise an anthrax scare—being mailed to financial institutions and others . . .

In Seattle, some 50 black-clad protesters marched through downtown, carrying black flags on sticks they used to shatter the windows of several stores including a Nike Town outlet and an HSBC bank before police moved them out of the area. Others smashed windows at a Seattle federal building, and swarms of demonstrators gathered in an open-air plaza.

May 2012 was not the first time authorities used an alleged May Day bomb plot to discredit anarchists. Chicago police, seeking to stop the movement for an eight-hour workday, attacked a peaceful rally in May 1886. A bomb was set off and police shot into the rally in what has become known as the Haymarket massacre. The bomber was never identified and the government provided no evidence linking them to the bombing, yet anarchists August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Louis Lingg, and Albert Parsons were accused of the bombing, convicted, and executed.

Historians James Joll and Timothy Messer-Kruse claim the evidence points to Rudolph Schnaubelt, brother-in-law of Michael Schwab, as the likely bomber. Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States also indicates it was Schnaubelt, suggesting “he was a provocateur, posing as an anarchist, who threw the bomb so police would have a pretext to arrest leaders of Chicago’s anarchist movement.”

Spies would later testify, “I was very indignant. I knew from experience of the past that this butchering of people was done for the express purpose of defeating the eight-hour movement.”

That was in the 19th century. The government has been framing, imprisoning, and occasionally murdering anarchists ever since.

But you’re not powerless. You can take some simple steps to protect yourself from being arrested, charged, and convicted of planning or participating in acts of terrorism. The FBI and Homeland Security have sent infiltrators to our meetings to talk about using violence. The authorities will often attempt to give the impression in affidavits or typed memos that someone other than their informant or undercover officer made statements advocating violence, and imply that everyone participating in the discussion supported its use.

One of the most successful strategies used by the FBI is to have those infiltrating joke about the use of violence. When the words they used become the text in memos or court filings, they’re out of context, they no longer seem humorous, and can be presented as a serious conversation supporting the use of violence. Since those participating in such conversation consider the statements nothing more than an awkward attempt to be humorous or fit in with the group, no one thinks to make it clear that they don’t intend to participate in a violent action. Months later, out-of-context statements can appear as evidence that anarchists were plotting acts of terrorism. Even if you state clearly that it is not appropriate to talk or joke about violence, you can still be arrested and tried, but you will greatly reduce that possibility if you do speak up.

Activists have been charged as terrorists after getting a ride home with people that turned out to be infiltrators. After dropping off their passengers, provocateurs and those they’re setting up have burned down buildings or torched vehicles. The fact that you were seen getting into the informant’s vehicle before the act of alleged terrorism happened can provide the evidence needed to accuse you of taking part. The FBI and their informants are not always honest, and may choose not to mention that you were not at the scene of the crime, even though they can honestly say you got into a vehicle with the arsonist. Sometimes federal prosecutors have been able to get convictions simply because the set-up activists were intimidated into not expressing their dedication to nonviolence, fearing that they would be accused of being “weak” and not serious about social change, the well-being of animals, or the environment. Both provocateurs and holier-than-thou true believers use such fears to manipulate people into saying or doing things they would never otherwise say or do. Don’t let anyone manipulate you into silence. Don’t let anyone manipulate you into saying or doing things that could land you in prison.

The first step is to make it clear that you are not going to participate in acts of violence or destructive sabotage. You can make this clear in your literature, statements to the media, at meetings, social gatherings and during informal conversations. If people are joking about using violence or talking about the virtues of acts that could injure or kill people, it is wise to make several statements making it clear that you will not engage in any kind of violent activity. Point out that you are dedicated to nonviolence and that anyone considering any other strategies or methods should meet elsewhere. To help protect your friends you might also point out that it is very unlikely that such plans could be concealed from the government. As you can see in the Cleveland case, otherwise innocent conversations can be recorded and provide support for prosecution.

Another step you can take is to include statements about nonviolence in your literature about any direct action you might be planning or supporting. On occasion, the media and prosecutors will claim that our literature didn’t make any mention that our protests would be nonviolent, and use that as “proof” we are terrorists. If your group is planning an action, you can protect yourself by including explicit language about nonviolence in your publications. This can be difficult when working in coalition with groups that might not share our principles of nonviolence, but you could publish your own literature on the action. Don’t be intimidated into remaining silent on the issue of violence. It isn’t necessary to exclude reference to nonviolent direct action just because people are arguing in support of a “diversity of tactics.” You may initiate a pledge of nonviolence for the campaign you are supporting and organize nonviolence training sessions. Nonviolent resistance is every bit as valid as other methods and is often more effective.

Nonviolent direct action, noncooperation, and nonviolent resistance can be very empowering. It takes courage to organize and participate in campaigns of nonviolent struggle. Nonviolent struggle can build trust between participants and the public. Campaigns of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience can be so effective that governments and corporations will try anything to push our movement into adopting violent tactics. That is one reason groups like Food Not Bombs have been the focus of infiltration and why the authorities rely on agents provocateur to reduce the impact of nonviolence, while sowing fear and alienation.

Don’t let people intimidate you into silence. People can make comments about nonviolent activists being “wimps” or “pussies,” that nonviolence never works, or that you are not really committed to change if you aren’t willing to use sabotage or violence. You might even hear that nonviolence is racist because people of color “have to take up arms,” and that white, first-world people have the luxury to use nonviolence. Infiltrators or government agents may be talking to some of your friends at cafes, clubs, or other public locations, promoting the idea that armed resistance or arson is the only solution. Honest discussion of all tactics and methods, including types of violence, is fine, but make it clear that you and your group are dedicated to nonviolence.

At the same time, it is not wise to make claims of infiltration or accuse someone of being an informant. It is best to not worry about infiltration and to stay focused on the work of your organization. Just take the simple precautions of asking that any discussions of violent tactics take place somewhere other than at public meetings, make it clear you are dedicated to nonviolence; and make that plain in your publications and through organizing nonviolence trainings. If you do this, attempts to convict you on terrorism charges will likely fail, and the fear and mistrust that so often destroy movements will be defused. The government can use the fear of infiltration as a way of destroying trust in your community. Don’t accuse people—just be careful about what you say and do.

You can make sure you and your friends will not fall prey to the government’s efforts to disrupt your work. First, stay focused on the fundamentals of your project or campaign. Don’t feel guilty about refusing to take violent action. Since the world is facing so many dire crises, it might seem rational to consider arson or other acts deemed violent by the corporate state, but these tactics often backfire. They can cause the public to withdraw any support they may have had for your cause. The use of violence also breeds distrust among activists, because of the secrecy involved. But as we have learned from Ed Snowden and other whistle blowers, it is nearly impossible to have secrets in the United States. According to the Washington Post, over eighty billion dollars is spent each year on government and corporate spying.

A campaign of violence would add to the disempowerment in our community and scare the public into greater support of the authorities. If you feel you must investigate tactics that include violent action, ask yourself whether such tactics will do more harm than good for you personally and for the cause you support. Are you really ready to live fearing capture? How will you feel if your friends spend their lives in prison while you’re all portrayed as dangerous and crazy? Will your actions really inspire the public to rise up and save the earth? How will you feel if you kill someone or if one of your friends is killed? Can you really see yourself coordinating a campaign of bombings, arson, shootings? How will you feel spending the rest of your life in prison, seeing the stress this puts on your family and friends?

While it is possible you could spend decades in prison for taking nonviolent direct action, you are likely to feel more empowered and have wider support on the outside than if you were imprisoned for violent acts. Unlike people who are doing life in prison for bombings or shootings, if you are sentenced to a long prison term for organizing or participating in a campaign of nonviolent direct action and noncooperation, you have a much greater chance of inspiring popular support, possibly achieving your political or environmental goals, and of leaving prison before your sentence is up.

In addition, mass nonviolent direct action based on a thoughtful strategy is more likely to be effective. Agents provocateur encourage drastic actions, knowing we are knowledgeable about environmental and economic threats. If pressured, you can remind your friends that many of the anarchists in prison were framed for “terrorist” acts and that as anarchists we are dedicated to nonviolent direct action.

Along with making it clear you are not going to be silent when people suggest using violence, you may want to organize nonviolence preparations, trainings or workshops with your friends or organizations. Suggest that your community study the history of nonviolent direct action in books by people such as Emma Goldman, Erica Chenoweth, Gene Sharp, Martin Luther King Jr., and others who experienced first hand the power of noncooperation and nonviolence.

Again, be concerned about jokes concerning violence. If people joke about armed revolution, bombings, rock throwing or other acts of violence, make it clear that you are dedicated to nonviolent direct action and ask them to stop. You might remind your friends that conversations and jokes about using violence have resulted in activists being framed and sentenced to long prison terms. Terms sometime decades long. The activists that are joking about violence or making statements about the need to use violence are not necessarily infiltrators or police agents, so don’t make any accusations. They may have been influenced by someone they met or may have read some of the many books romanticizing violence. It is best not to worry and to stay focused on the work of your group. The government can use the fear of infiltration as a way of destroying trust in your community. Again, simply remind your friends that you are dedicated to nonviolent direct action and that we don’t joke or talk about taking violent action.

While armed resistance has worked to overthrow governments and change the power structure of some countries, in virtually every case the system that resulted continued to use violence to retain its authority. That is the exact opposite of what anarchists are seeking: a society free of coercion, exploitation and domination. Nonviolent social change offers the clearest route there.

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Keith McHenry is the author of Hungry for Peace: How You Can Help End Poverty and War with Food Not Bombs.

hungry

 


(With the events in Charlottesville still fresh in our minds, and with seemingly daily confrontations between neo-Nazis and anti-racists, the information and analysis Keith McHenry presents below couldn’t be more timely.)

Dummy 3 flat 72-small

(From The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe — an actual cookbook written by anarchists which includes accurate information about anarchism and “recipes” for social change.)

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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 often 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 technique 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 becoming successful, 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 tsupport 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 safe from violence and exploitation. 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 at overpowering the opposition, they install a new institution that relies on violence to protect its 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 a realm where they have the advantage, such as 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. Stephamn 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 possible 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 at least the participation of 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.

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: “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 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 in January 1990 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, the Direct Action Network, its pledge to take nonviolent action, and the months of nonviolent 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 have destroyed 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 provides several examples of using property damage to farther 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 last 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. He testified that:

Today, I am present in this court together with Rene Riese and Francis 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 non-hierarchical process of consensus in the decision-making procfess 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 impacted. 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 to 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 group of 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 that 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 Occupy Oakland’s 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 bandannas 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 for mayhem, that’s a comment on what those 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.”

* * *

Keith McHenry is the author of Hungry for Peace: How You Can Help End Poverty and War with Food Not Bombs.

hungry


 

hungryby Keith McHenry, Food Not Bombs cofounder and author of Hungry for Peace and The Anarchist Cookbook

“The president-elect is the most dangerous man in America. The question now, for which there is as yet no answer, is: Who will stand up to him?” — Michael A. Cohen, Boston Globe, December 8, 2016

We the people will stand up to Trump. Not Cohen’s list of politicians and leaders who have been benefiting from the corrupt system that put Trump in power. The post-inauguration chaos could well take America and the world into uncharted territory, so creating a strategy on how to transform America into a sustainable, post-capitalist society will take imagination.

Beware of groups seeking to hijack the anti-Trump movement for their own benefit. You can become disheartened if you spend energy supporting an organization only to discover that the group, presenting itself as the “vanguard of the revolution” or as a well intentioned (and well financed) reform organization, is more interested in its own well-being, in “organization building,” than in transforming society. A lot of these groups will try to recruit you as the crisis deepens, but you don’t need them. There are things we ourselves can do to prepare, to fight back.

Forming affinity groups is an important first step. An affinity group is simply a voluntary group formed around a common goal or interest. Such groups typically have five to ten participants who meets at least once a month, sometimes as much as several times a week. An affinity group provides a space for discussing tactics, strategies, and specific actions. It also provides a place to work cooperatively on projects. Importantly, it also serves as a means of mutual support and validation, a means of overcoming the crushing isolation that keeps people alone, disempowered, and hopeless; it can provide inspiration and stir the imagination in these dark times.

The longer a group works together, the more trust and strength it will have. Many affinity groups are organized in a non-hierarchical manner, often using a consensus decision making process, and are frequently made up of trusted friends. Affinity groups provide a means of organization that is both flexible and decentralized, and that makes it easy for like-minded groups to coordinate their actvities.

Anarchist Cookbook front coverAs an example, the affinity group structure is very valuable in organizing nonviolent direct actions and protests. This process/structure was often used in nonviolent direct actions against the US War on Vietnam, and even more so in the 1970s in anti-nuclear campaigns. Possibly the most successful example using the affinity group model was the shutting down of the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle in November of 1999.

A number of affinity groups can be formed into what activists call “clusters.” For example, in the effort to stop the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire, clusters formed in geographic locations such as Boston, North Shore, and so on. All participating affinity groups would send representatives to cluster meetings, and any decisions they made then had to be approved by participants in the member groups.

For large actions, cluster representatives would meet at a spokes council to adopt or reject proposals advanced by affinity groups. This can be challenging, but if all involved seek to come to consensus on clear, simply articulated proposals, it can work, and it did work.

Where this process fails is when large groups try to come to consensus on every minor matter. We saw this problem often during the Occupy Wall Street movement. Detailed discussions of minor things is better kept at the affinity group level, or, even better, are best left to work groups. An example would be food procurement and preparation at large gatherings and actions, which is usually delegated to Food Not Bombs or another designated work group.

In preparation for the blockade of the World Trade Organization Summit in Seattle, a coalition of affinity groups called the Direct Action Network (DAN) published a “Common Agreements” document. It asked that, no matter what their views on nonviolence as a tactic or strategy, participants honor the agreement during the time of the action. The Common Agreements were: ”Refrain from violence, physical or verbal; not to carry weapons, not to bring or use illegal drugs or alcohol, and not to destroy property.

Nonviolent direct action preparations were really important in the success of the blockade. Author and activist Star Hawk wrote of the preparations saying:

“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 playing 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.”

One possible reason the direct actions to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock succeeded (at least for now) is that the Native American elders had a common agreement worded much like that used during the WTO protests in Seattle, and that they asked everyone interested in participating to take a three-hour Nonviolent Direct Action Preparation.

There are several resources to help organize nonviolent direct action preparation in your community. One is “Preparation for Nonviolent Action” posted on the Vernal Project website. The War Resisters League website has a good resource, “Nonviolence Training: Nonviolent Action Preparation 4 to 5+ hour agenda.”  And there may also be experienced facilitators in your community who can help with nonviolence training, but you can also organize your own nonviolence preparations.

If thousands of us dedicate ourselves to forming affinity groups and organizing nonviolent direct action preparations, it could provide a solid foundation for opposing whatever Trump and corporate capitalism will deliver.

No matter what horrors the Trump period brings, we need to prepare for a long struggle. Don’t mourn, organize!

 


We put up our 1,000th post about three weeks ago. Since then, we’ve been looking through everything we’ve posted, and have been putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the ninth of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction, HumorMusicInterviews, AtheismEconomics, Science/Skepticism, and Addictions lists, and will shortly be putting up our final “best of”: Religion.

Here, we’ve folded three categories (Anarchism, Libertarianism, and Politics) into this post because of the relative paucity of posts on Anarchism and Libertarianism. We hope you’ll enjoy at least some of these posts.

Anarchism

Libertarianism

Politics


In the mid and late 1980s, I worked at Typesetting Etc. in San Franscisco. We shared a large second-story corner office on 7th Street with Processed World magazine, a block from the worst part of San Francisco’s skid row, 6th Street. The location was an exercise in contrast. The office and the building it was in (the Grant building) were gorgeous. High ceilings, wainscoting, wrought iron banisters, marble stairs, tiny hexagonal white tiles on the lobby and hall floors.  If anything, the office itself was even nicer: carpeted floor, antique radiators for heating, wood-casement picture windows that extended nearly the full 12 feet to the ceiling. And it was ungodly cheap.

The reason? The location. We were right across the street from a notorious heroin-dealing bar, catercorner to the Greyhound station, and everyday we would see unbelievable scenes of degradation just by looking down from the windows. It was routine to look down and see homeless people pissing in the street or on the sidewalk, and occasionally we’d see a homeless person taking a dump between parked cars.

Food Not Bombs in Golden Gate ParkAt the time, the San Francisco city government and the city’s cops were locked in a years-long battle with Food Not Bombs, trying to prevent the group from serving free food to the hungry and homeless.  Over the course of that campaign, they arrested hundreds of people for serving or attempting to serve food, and they wasted at minimum hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, more likely millions.

In the midst of all this–in the dim, dark, pre-desktop publishing days when we still worked with cold type, vertical cameras, and light tables–a bubbly, bearded type walked in and asked us to do some free work for Food Not Bombs. This was a fairly typical request, as we did free or drastically discounted work for what seemed like half of the leftist political groups in town. (To support this, we also did a fair amount of commercial work, mostly for theater companies; the Church of $cientology was just down the street, and we even did occasional work for them at special Church of $cientology rates.)

In any event, the bearded, bubbly type turned out to be Keith McHenry, one of the co-founders of Food Not Bombs, who had moved to San Francisco a few years before, and was leading the Food Not Bombs campaign.

Since then, Keith and I have been friends, and over the years See Sharp Press has published the second edition of Food Not Bombs, the group’s original manual (1998); Hungry for Peace, Food Not Bombs’ new manual (2012); and most recently the new (2015) Anarchist Cookbook, which I co-authored with Keith, which advocates nonviolent direct action and is the antidote to the infamous 1971 bomb- and drug-making manual of the same title.

In the same period, Food Not Bombs expanded from single chapters in Boston and San Francisco to hundreds of chapters worldwide.

Food Not Bombs served its first free meal 35 years ago today.

Here’s Keith’s remembrance of the founding of Food Not Bombs.

* * *

hungry

The Beginning of Food Not Bombs

by Keith McHenry

During the late 1970s, I was active with the Clamshell Alliance and the Coalition for Direct Action and participated in a number of protests at the Seabrook nuclear power station construction site in New Hampshire. Those protests brought the eight of us who started Food Not Bombs together. One of us, Brian Feigenbaum, had been arrested at a protest, and we started to hold bake sales outside the Student Union at Boston University and in public places like Harvard Square to raise money for his legal defense.

Several of us decided we also needed to build opposition to Seabrook in the Boston area, Boston being the largest city likely to be effected by a nuclear accident at Seabrook. At about the same time, several of our friends discovered that many of the board members of the First National Bank of Boston sat on the boards of the companies building and buying Seabrook Nuclear Power Station.

The bank was using depositors’ money to fund this dangerous project. We decided to start a campaign called the First National Bank Project with the intention of bringing the effort to stop the nuclear station to the people of Boston.

I designed a flyer diagraming the interconnections of the bank’s board members with the nuclear industry. Several on the First National Bank of Boston’s board also sat on the boards of military contractors such as Raytheon as well as on the boards of companies such as Babcock and Wilcox that were profiting from the construction of the nuclear power station. The flyer showed this complex web.

Our first action was outside the Bank of Boston’s headquarters. I was the only one in the group who owned a suit and tie in the group and so was picked to play Bank President Richard Hill in a skit.

Dummy 3 flat 72-smallThe eight founding volunteers of Food Not Bombs met and decided to support the First National Bank Project campaign with food. I recovered boxes of organic produce at my job at Bread and Circus Natural Grocery in Cambridge. We’d previous been collecting such food and delivering all of it to the people living at the projects on Portland Avenue. Following the launch of the First National Bank campaign, we agreed to use some of the food for the campaign.

The second action organized by the First National Bank Project was  held outside the annual stockholders meeting of the bank on March 26, 1981. By then, we were calling ourselves Food Not Bombs, and we decided to make a huge pot of soup out of some of the produce I was recovering. We dressed as hobos from the Great Depression era and organized a soup line outside the Federal Reserve Bank at South Station.

As we were preparing the pot of soup, we became concerned that there would not be enough people to finish all the food and that we had also not done enough to draw the number of protesters needed to make the meal resemble a Depression era soup line. We thought of a solution. We’d tell the homeless people at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter about the lunch time protest. Two of us drove over to the Inn at about midnight. The staff was happy to let us speak to the men. I made a brief announcement about the purpose of the protest and said that we would be providing a free meal. They were excited more about the protest than the meal.

The next day Food Not Bombs arrived outside the Federal Reserve Bank dressed as hobos. One of us had a cloth tied up as a bag and filled it with crumpled paper and hung it off a wooden broom stick to look like the bindlestiff one would see in movies from the depression era. Many of the men we had met at the Pine Street Inn were already waiting for us when we arrived. We set up a literature table with information about Food Not Bombs and the flyer I had produced about the policies of the Bank of Boston. We tied a few balloons to the mirrors and door handles of our van and set out the 60-quart pot of soup, paper bowls and a few loaves of bread.

The men from the inn gathered and made a line down the sidewalk towards Canal Street and South Station. A business man stopped to tell us he was shocked to see the line. “I have only seen soup lines in movies. I sure hope this does’t become a necessity.”

We shared the soup with not only the many homeless that came, but also business people who were walking pass. We also talked with a few stockholders who stopped to share their anger at the bank’s policies. Several of those from the inn suggested we do this every day.One of them told us, “There isn’t any food available for us during the day. We get coffee and donuts before they kick us out and donuts and coffee when we return for the night, but there aren’t any food programs in Boston that provide cooked meals.”

The economic policies of the Reagan Administration had only just begun to wreak havoc on working people, and very few Americans were homeless.. By the end of the Reagan Administration the homeless population had grown from less than 100,000 mostly homeless vets to over 750,000 people, including many families.

That evening while cleaning up from our first soup line we decided to quit our jobs and dedicate our time to food recovery, grocery distribution, and the street theater of sharing vegan meals while conveying a radical message. Maybe we could slow Reagan’s economic policies of deep cuts in public housing, education, food, and social welfare, and the redirection of federal taxes towards the expansion of the military.

We started a daily routine of recovering produce, baked goods, and tofu donated by local shops, and delivering it to community rooms at public housing projects, shelters, and to others in need. Each evening Food Not Bombs volunteers would set up a literature table along with a table of vegan food at Harvard Square, the Park Street Station, and other public locations. Often people would drum and play other instruments, and at times we would organize puppet shows and other theatrical activities during the evening meals.

"Danger Money" graphic by Tomasz StepienEight years later, after eight years of President Reagan’s bank-friendly policies, the Food Not Bombs theatrical soup line of March 26, 1981 had become a soup line of necessity.

The 1981 soup line outside the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston was just a theatrical memory of the Great Depression. For over two decades it’s been a necessity. I delivered produce to Occupy Boston outside that same bank in 2011. The capitalist political and economic system continues to produce the poverty, hunger, and suffering that is a
natural outcome of a sociopathic system of institutionalized greed.

The eight of us were very optimistic that crisp March day in 1981 believing we could change the world. And yes, we accomplished much more than we could ever have imagined. At the same time, we could not have imagined just how much more we would need to do.


We started this blog in July 2013. Since then, we’ve been posting almost daily.

When considering the popularity of the posts, one thing stands out:  in all but a few cases, popularity declines over time.

As well, the readership of this blog has expanded gradually over time, so most readers have never seen what we consider many of our best posts. Because of this, we’ve been putting up “best of” lists for that last two weeks.

Here are the lists we’ve already posted:

And here are our final 2015 “best of” lists:

Politics

Economics


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.”