Interesting take on nonviolent protest

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Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Setar » Sat Jan 05, 2013 10:11 am

It's an old article about the London riots, but it makes a wonderful point.

Specifically:

For those who are self aware and want to create a better world through what they perceive to be “peaceful” methods such as silent protests, singing songs, and writing strongly worded letters to elected officials, I say what good has that done so far? I am for peace and non-violence and in my view, breaking an object is not violence. Things are just things. Some say that by breaking into stores they are ruining the lives of the store owners, but from what I see they are targeting the larger stores and are not hurting human life.


I honestly sympathize. We can go on about principles, but the fact of the matter is that smashing the windows at Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan/Chase, or shoplifting from Walmart, is a far cry from smashing the windows of the local independent bookstore or shoplifting from the family-owned corner store. Institutions like big banks and major retail stores can simply eat the loss. They have way more than enough resources to do so, and no one is going to be directly hit by the cost; this is not the case for local independent stores who are probably at the behest of bigger chains and banks for things such as supplies, loans and electronic transactions.

Really, I think that this whole opposition to smashing up the windows of giant chain stores or major banks, as though it is equal to robbing directly from the people who work there, is just a manifestation of "corporations are people too". It erases the disparity between independent businesses and corporate institutions, and indeed helps us to venerate the corporate institutions by treating them as equal to the mom-and-pop store that's been around for the past 30 years (if it hasn't gone out of business thanks to the new Walmart Supercentre).

In fact, it reminds me of how, say, rocket attacks from Gaza are treated as equal to the systematic oppression imposed on Palestinians by the Israeli government. The disparity is erased, even though it's readily visible if you just go to Google Earth and look at the Gaza Strip.

(I think there's more but I seem to have run out of words. but suffice to say there's massive erasing going on and I really think it needs to stop.)

edit: punching up / punching down. shoplifting from Walmart or smashing the windows at JPMorgan/Chase is punching up, way the fuck up.

edit 2 (hopefully my last of the night): really, I think we've fetishized non-violence, to the point where anything resembling violence -- even if it's committed against inanimate objects, in ways that will explicitly not hurt real people -- is automatically condemned. which I am beginning to not like very much. yes you can go on about how it'll be counterproductive because the media will latch onto it, but, well...that's just a part of manufacturing consent; the media isn't exactly friendly to the people who fetishize nonviolence in the first place because they're still bringing up the problems with our colonial-capitalist system and we can't have those being taken seriously. it might result in power being taken away from rich colonial-capitalists, and we can't have that.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby drwolffe » Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:13 pm

If the problem with nonviolence is "what good has it done so far," then I can ask the same about 'violent protests.' What good has breaking the windows at JP Morgan Chase, or stealing from Walmart, done so far? If these big corporations can just eat the cost, then it seems like 'violent protests' will go unnoticed by the corporation.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby jameslangley » Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:36 pm

The only issue I see is that it achieves no foreseeable result. The object gets smashed, and the corporation just claims from their insurer and gets the damage paid for. It doesn't cost them at all. Unless there is something I'm not seeing?
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby emptyell » Sat Jan 05, 2013 4:22 pm

It seems to me there is a place for all of it. The effectiveness of any particular protest will depend on the circumstances. Some will have an immediate and obvious impact, some will appear to fail but have positive effects that are difficult to discern or develop over time, some may even be counterproductive. Many times it will not be at all clear.

The case of the London riots seems like one of the not so clear events. I don't recall the looting to have been limited to large corporate retailers but I'm not sure how significant that is. IIRC the riots were a spontaneous flash-mob sort of thing that escalated out of control and not a considered political protest. I imagine that some or many participants justified their actions post hoc as being politically motivated but that does not seem too significant. The riots did seem to have some significant effects as they dramatically showcased what can happen when disparities in wealth and income get so far out of whack.

There is a place for the principled non-violent folks as well. Everyone should act according to what is appropriate for themselves and their circumstances. But it's arguable that non-violent protesters would get far less attention if not for the existence or threat of violence. Nobody has a monopoly on theirs being the "right" way.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Amadan » Sat Jan 05, 2013 5:18 pm

Well, Walmart and JP Morgan Chase will pass the costs on. The fact that you can't directly see individual people being harmed or prices going up does not mean there is no social/economic cost, or that it's only rich bankers who pay it.

Rioters are not particularly discriminating, and even if there is a principled, politically motivated core behind a protest, if it turns violent you are going to get mostly opportunists doing damage and engaging in smash-and-grabs, as happened in the London riots.

So, let's take a look at that article.

(I almost quit reading when I hit "sheeple.")

I can agree that if I owned a car, which I do not, and someone burned it to the ground during major unrest, I would not be happy about it. But I would not spend time being angry over it.


Well, that's nice for him. What about the person whose car is the only way of getting to work, and who can't afford to replace it?

There seem to be a whole lot of assumptions being made here that only rich people who deserve it anyway will be hurt by violent protests and riots.

I am utterly unconvinced that the London riots had much to do with principles or empowerment or that they accomplished anything positive for anyone, least of all the less privileged.

I can imagine cases where violent protest might be warranted and accomplish some good, but those cases are very rare. Riots where gangs are looting stores, not so much.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby anyGould » Sun Jan 06, 2013 4:56 am

emptyell wrote: But it's arguable that non-violent protesters would get far less attention if not for the existence or threat of violence.


I wish I'd kept the article, but there's actually an interview (I want to say London, but this could be faulty memory), which runs roughly:
Q: why are you doing so much property damage?
A: because you wouldn't be here otherwise, would you? You didn't show up for all the peaceful events.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Sylvia Sybil » Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:03 am

AnyGould, I remember that. It made an impression on me, also.

NBC News wrote:here's a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
The TV reporter from Britain's ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Setar » Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:28 am

Same thing happened with the anti-Olympic protests in Vancouver. There was hardly any mention of the protesters' issues and the peaceful protests were downplayed as much as possible, but the violence -- which was committed by a relatively small group of people, and well-targeted (the windows smashed were those of the Hudson Bay Company's flagship store in downtown, which is colonialism writ large) -- was played up as much as possible (And, of course, all of it was "balanced" by white guys whining about how the protesters were being all inconvenient and making it less fun because, y'know, it's more important to have fun and get drunk than it is to admit that we fucking stole this land right out from under its original inhabitants).
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Orenda » Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:30 am

Unfortunately it's not just property that gets attacked during some riots.

"The death toll from the English riots has risen to five after a man who was attacked by a mob as he tried to stamp out a fire died in hospital.
Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, who was left in a coma when he was set upon by rioters in Ealing, west London, on Monday, died late on Thursday, prompting detectives to launch a murder inquiry."


http://www.smh.com.au/world/riot-death- ... z2HAcFsMBm
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby ApostateltsopA » Sun Jan 06, 2013 6:56 am

My issue with violence or property destruction, is escalation. To use physical force as a tool you either have to be highly disciplined as an individual, or have a well drilled group of persons who are acting in concert.

In the case of an individual the problem is quickly solved, the more damage done the more incentive provided for those with power to hunt the person down. With a group it's worse, control is harder and the opposition has an easier time finding and eliminating the group. The damage done can have prices put on it and the person or group gets vilified, and their cause gets tarnished in public opinion.

Public opinion is the goal right? Meaningful change happens when people are reminded of empathy and give a shit. Physically aggressive people are scary, scared people don't think rationally and do let authoritarian governments take care of the problem.

Setar, I'll be the first to admit I'm seeing this from a position of privilege, I can't see many situations or causes that benefit from physical force. The ones I do see are immediate defense of life or prevention of immediate harm and wars to end oppression.

I would need some serious convincing to see smashing Goldman Sachs windows as useful. Here in Denver several Democratic campaign offices were vandalized during the campaign and my response was to think a lot less of the vandals. It seems to me that embracing such tactics dehumanizes the protestor more often than not.

Was the guy on the news in the UK taken seriously? Did his issue get addressed or was he just the circus item on that week's news cycle?

Edit,
I can agree that if I owned a car, which I do not, and someone burned it to the ground during major unrest, I would not be happy about it. But I would not spend time being angry over it. I would take the necessary steps of repairing the car or find a new way of getting around. Being mad will not change that fact that it happened, nor will it help the people ease their pain. It would only create more anger and more burning of cars. When you fight against something, you only create more soldiers on the opposite side to fight against you. But when you accept things as they are, that is usually the end of it.


Emphasis mine. This right here from the original article seemed to undermine the whole concept. I think we fight better with sociology than physics.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby mikekoz68 » Sun Jan 06, 2013 2:44 pm

The only point in the article that I would agree with is that violent protests get more attention than peaceful ones, as for the rest of the piece, I don't think the author has thought out his ideas very well. He doesn't think breaking things is regarded as violence? That's actually the textbook definition of violence, as in "actions intended to cause destruction", just because people weren't physically hurt, does not mean its not violence.

He seems to think that smashing windows is ok as long as its the windows of big business which has insurance and can afford to absorb any financial loss, is he fucking serious? This is along the same lines as thinking eating grapes at the supermarket is ok cuz big companies can afford it- stealing is stealing, and vandalism is vandalism! The people responsible should be prosecuted and ordered to pay for damages.

His comment about the destruction of a person's car is particularly condescending, saying that the person shouldn't be angry about their loss and instead take actions to repair it or find other transportation. While getting angry may not help the situation, who the hell is he to tell someone else how to feel about losing their car? Losing a car can be devastating to a person, they could lose their job or if they were a delivery person, lose their livelyhood, he has no idea about the extent of the loss, to many people a car is more than just a possession. He does point out the fact that he doesn't even own a car, which is maybe why he's so clueless here.

"I will never support a person or group of people who seek to hurt or kill people"- this statement is particularly ironic, if you destroyed someone's car or smashed someone's windows so maybe they don't work that day and don't get paid, you've definitely hurt someone!

"Interesting take" alright... I think Amadan was right, should have stopped reading once I hit the word "sheeple"
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby anyGould » Mon Jan 07, 2013 12:00 am

Sylvia Sybil wrote:AnyGould, I remember that. It made an impression on me, also.

NBC News wrote:here's a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?
"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"
The TV reporter from Britain's ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."


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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby b00ger » Mon Jan 07, 2013 3:42 pm

It seems that violence is a double edged sword. On one hand the media won't pay any attention to you unless this is some sort of story, and the media love violence. On the other hand, you lose popular support. This seems like an interesting topic and I don't really know enough to comment. Does anyone have suggestions for reading on this topic?
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby emptyell » Mon Jan 07, 2013 8:32 pm

b00ger wrote:It seems that violence is a double edged sword. On one hand the media won't pay any attention to you unless this is some sort of story, and the media love violence. On the other hand, you lose popular support. This seems like an interesting topic and I don't really know enough to comment. Does anyone have suggestions for reading on this topic?


Damned if you do, ignored if you don't. Sounds vaguely familiar. Tools of Oppression 101
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby irkthepurists » Mon Jan 07, 2013 9:50 pm

It's certainly true that the London riots weren't 'political' in any direct sense (and I say this as someone who lives literally around the corner from where it kicked off), but it's also true that violent protests are invariably used as an excuse to condemn protest and dissent per se. Even if the rioters had been wielding copies of Das Kapital, the ring-wing press would still have made the same 'Huh, they just wanted some free trainers' comments.

I'm against destroying property full-stop, though. If you smash a McDonalds window, it's not the CEO of McDonalds who has to clear up the mess. Or any of his family shitting themselves with fear in the flats above.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby ApostateltsopA » Tue Jan 08, 2013 3:57 am

I've been mulling this one over some. Quite frankly to answer the original article quite a lot has been accomplished by nonviolence. The name that came to mind was Harriet Tubman. Once I remembered her many more instances came to mind.

One of the things that tie them together was they enjoyed media attention. What do the rest of you think about sensationalism as an alternative to violence? A protest is easily ignored, a protest that outs publicly some dirty laundry, or had more visual appeal than a bunch of people in a group, suddenly the cameras are interested. Should protestors court the media?
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby emptyell » Tue Jan 08, 2013 4:11 am

ApostateltsopA wrote:I've been mulling this one over some. Quite frankly to answer the original article quite a lot has been accomplished by nonviolence. The name that came to mind was Harriet Tubman. Once I remembered her many more instances came to mind.

One of the things that tie them together was they enjoyed media attention. What do the rest of you think about sensationalism as an alternative to violence? A protest is easily ignored, a protest that outs publicly some dirty laundry, or had more visual appeal than a bunch of people in a group, suddenly the cameras are interested. Should protestors court the media?


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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Setar » Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:56 am

mikekoz68 wrote:He seems to think that smashing windows is ok as long as its the windows of big business which has insurance and can afford to absorb any financial loss, is he fucking serious? This is along the same lines as thinking eating grapes at the supermarket is ok cuz big companies can afford it- stealing is stealing, and vandalism is vandalism! The people responsible should be prosecuted and ordered to pay for damages.

I have already responded to this argument in the OP. It would be appreciated if you would acknowledge and respond to that, rather than repeat the standard 'principles' as though there are simply no problems with that line.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Amadan » Tue Jan 08, 2013 12:39 pm

Setar wrote:
mikekoz68 wrote:He seems to think that smashing windows is ok as long as its the windows of big business which has insurance and can afford to absorb any financial loss, is he fucking serious? This is along the same lines as thinking eating grapes at the supermarket is ok cuz big companies can afford it- stealing is stealing, and vandalism is vandalism! The people responsible should be prosecuted and ordered to pay for damages.

I have already responded to this argument in the OP. It would be appreciated if you would acknowledge and respond to that, rather than repeat the standard 'principles' as though there are simply no problems with that line.



"Stealing is stealing and vandalism is vandalism" may be a trifle simplistic, but it is essentially true. Your OP (and the article) are pretty much arguing that stealing and vandalism are okay ("punching up") if directed at big companies/rich people, and there have been a number of posts in this thread pointing out the problems with that line, which I notice you have not acknowledged or responded to.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Eowyn Entwife » Tue Jan 08, 2013 1:46 pm

Amadan wrote:
older quotes [ Show ]
Setar wrote:
mikekoz68 wrote:He seems to think that smashing windows is ok as long as its the windows of big business which has insurance and can afford to absorb any financial loss, is he fucking serious? This is along the same lines as thinking eating grapes at the supermarket is ok cuz big companies can afford it- stealing is stealing, and vandalism is vandalism! The people responsible should be prosecuted and ordered to pay for damages.

I have already responded to this argument in the OP. It would be appreciated if you would acknowledge and respond to that, rather than repeat the standard 'principles' as though there are simply no problems with that line.


"Stealing is stealing and vandalism is vandalism" may be a trifle simplistic, but it is essentially true. Your OP (and the article) are pretty much arguing that stealing and vandalism are okay ("punching up") if directed at big companies/rich people, and there have been a number of posts in this thread pointing out the problems with that line, which I notice you have not acknowledged or responded to.

I cannot answer for Setar, but I know why I would have [not] responded exactly like xe did. Every other poster who questions the OP's differentiating between "smashing up" and "smashing down" also contributes some additional, thoughtful and informative viewpoint and/or frames xir post as (a) personal opinion(s) and/or questions the certainty of xir own knowledge or understanding. In other words, all the others post as if they were participating in a discussion, where they do their best to contribute a variety of viewpoints and where it is OK to have several possible interpretations of and opinions about reality on the table simultaneously and look at them all, without jumping to hasty conclusions. Which is good, because that is exactly what they are participating in.

mikekoz68 is the only one who presents xir opinion as if it were an unquestionable fact or "The Truth" about the issue at hand. Such an approach rarely goes down well on this forum, and especially not if the thread in question barely has gotten started (less than 20 posts is a bit early for claiming what The Truth of this matter is, IMO).

I "hear" mike's metamessage as saying something like "This is the truth, stop talking about this already" and Setar's response as "Sorry, pal, we are in no such hurry, we want to discuss this the way we like to discuss things, so sod off". And IMO Setar's response is A OK.


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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Amadan » Tue Jan 08, 2013 4:03 pm

Eowyn Entwife wrote:mikekoz68 is the only one who presents xir opinion as if it were an unquestionable fact or "The Truth" about the issue at hand. Such an approach rarely goes down well on this forum, and especially not if the thread in question barely has gotten started (less than 20 posts is a bit early for claiming what The Truth of this matter is, IMO).



I don't agree with your assessment, but okay. I am specifically referring to Setar's implication that "This is along the same lines as thinking eating grapes at the supermarket is ok cuz big companies can afford it" is an argument that has been rebutted. I did not see any rebuttal of that point, or at least not one that I found persuasive. As far as I can tell, that is the reasoning being presented here, along with a vague idea that stealing and vandalizing big corporations is in some way empowering and beneficial. I'd be interested to see an actual argument that the London Riots accomplished anything positive whatsoever. "It got people's attention" (and therefore the response will be to crack down and wax on about a need for more law and order, as opposed to doing anything about the rioters' supposed grievances) ain't it.

And so as not to be in any way vague myself: I do think that violence, theft, and vandalism is wrong, with some very few situational exceptions. And I don't think the London Riots are on the same continent as any of those exceptions.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby emptyell » Tue Jan 08, 2013 7:09 pm

You know we can wank on all day long about whether it's right or wrong to steal grapes from the supermarket.

The reality is that shit happens. There will be people who feel justified in stealing. There are also people who feel justified in kidnapping and execution to make political statements. And others who feel justified in invading a country and killing hundreds of thousands. It is also obvious that these and all other offenses in between will be resisted by those who are adversely affected.

Until we achieve the socialist libertarian utopia where we all freely choose to do all we can to make everyone's lives as good as possible this shit will continue to happen regardless of how much we may tsk tsk about it.

It seems clear that wherever possible it is best to achieve progress through positive and constructive, and thus non-violent, means. But when this is blocked by oppressive systems then destructive (though not necessarily violent) methods become necessary.

I guess my main point is that whether actions should be proscribed is a different question altogether from whether they are effective and that conflating the two is not very useful.

Note: edited to remove spurious platitude.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby anyGould » Tue Jan 08, 2013 9:50 pm

emptyell wrote:It seems clear that wherever possible it is best to achieve progress through positive and constructive, and thus non-violent, means. But when this is blocked by oppressive systems then destructive (though not necessarily violent) methods become necessary.


^^ This. You can't put yourself as King of the Hill and then declare it's illegal to push. Well, you can, but don't be surprised when people push you anyway...
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby Sylvia Sybil » Wed Jan 09, 2013 2:01 am

After turning this over for a few days, for me it comes down to two questions: is violence an appropriate response to violence? And, are these corporate targets engaging in violence?

I think the answer to both questions is yes. Telling victims they're not allowed to stand up to their bullies isn't right; sometimes a certain amount of violence is necessary for self-defense. And Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, etc. are parasites killing people by inches. They're simply using their power in society to reframe the discussion as if starving their employees and stealing from their clients isn't violence.
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Re: Interesting take on nonviolent protest

Postby ceepolk » Wed Jan 09, 2013 5:09 am

"In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience." -Stokely Carmichael.

Seems to me that those of you loudly screaming that nonviolent protest is the only acceptable protest best jump to proving that those protested against actually have a conscience.

I'll wait here.

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