misplaced reactions to the Toronto G20 protests…

There is so much to write about, that I have not managed to put something together… I have decided to include someone else’s reflections on the last weeks G20 protests in Toronto, as a prelude:

Propaghandi | Cop Car Burned! All Criticisms of Global Capitalism Rendered Moot!

i don’t endorse violence. i don’t think it’s the ideal way forward to a better society. i think all sane people would agree. heck, i don’t even endorse vandalism in the “service” of social change. i’m conservative that way. but the disproportionate reaction (to the disproportionate mainstream media coverage) to the image of a burning car and some broken windows at the G20 summit in toronto needs to be put into perspective.

i won’t bother with the obvious comparative study of the isolated “violence” of a handful of protestors versus the overwhelming violence practiced day in and day out at the expense of millions upon millions of human lives by national states the world over in order to secure their geopolitical interests. too easy. too obvious. too fundamental.

i will however, point out that unless you’ve been in the situation of being a direct, physical and psychological target of overwhelming and belligerent street-level force FUNDED BY YOUR OWN TAX DOLLARS, it can be hard to understand the frustration and rage that can build over the course of an afternoon let alone over the course of a lifetime.

hell, you don’t even have to have experienced it directly. just sitting on our couches in our homes, cursing the stinking system, we all know that the state has a monopoly on ultimate violence and total control. otherwise it wouldn’t exist as it does, right? things would be different, cause we would have gotten up off our couches and changed it if we were operating on a level playing field. but their is no level playing field between the state and its subjects. citizens plainly have insufficient institutional power to derail the sociopathic behaviour of the prevailing order. frustration and rage is the predictable result.

that frustration and rage is exacerbated when you’re pitted face to face against a wall of riot cops who are alternately corralling and intentionally provoking your otherwise peaceful demonstration into a corner, firing rubber bullets at you, detaining and searching you with no cause, hitting you with batons, singling out and abducting organizers, impersonating protesters, firing gas canisters intentionally at head level, exploding sound grenades by your ears, permanently damaging your body with exposure to chemical bombs (all based on personal experience by the way) and then having it all portrayed in the media as if it were YOU that needs to be restrained and punished rather than the megalomaniacs on the other side of the fence that continue to plunder and pillage the planet at these obnoxious publicly-funded private-parties of the global elite.

in these situations, there is only so much futility a person can take before their rage can get the best of them and a burning cop car or a smashed bank window starts to look pretty appealing. yes, these are futile acts, but what do we expect people to do when they are treated like shit and the justice system does nothing to intervene on their behalf?

sure, ideally we could all rise above it and aim for a perfect, superhuman state of restraint. sure. and yes, ideally i too would prefer the demonstrations were strictly peaceful (for strategic reasons mainly) and that other, more polarizing means of demonstration and protest and disruption occurred outside of these public gatherings (where they would be more effective).

but the people who manage the security state won’t let that happen anyways. they WANT violence. they provoke it. why? it justifies their absurd budgets. it lets them test and refine (and demonstrate to the rest of the population) their methods of population control in a managed setting, preparing for the day that the shit really hits the fan and the police state finally gets to give up any pretense of democracy. why else would they have the summit in fucking downtown toronto, where spirited protest was absolutely certain to occur, rather than on some cruise-ship in the atlantic where it could all be completely avoided? these are essentially war-games being staged on our nickel. and we, the people, are the enemy.

so let’s just try to keep things in perspective when corporate media habitually fails to hold concentrations of global power to any sliver of account and instead chooses to replay footage of a stupid burning cop car on a loop for hours on end as their marquee story.

there are plenty of examples of independent video footage of cops provoking and mistreating people at the G20 summit surfacing on the net. do yourself a favour and check them out and ask yourself how you would feel if you were on the receiving end of it. or if it were a member of your family.

that’s all i got to say.

Posted by Jesus H. Chris on June 27th, 2010

masculinity & Sea Shepherd’s approach to direct action

Following on from my recent post about strategy and tactics, with a focus on conflations and exceptionalisms, I wanted to pen some critical comments on the approach — not the actions — of Sea Shepherd. I want to emphasise the distinction between approach to and the actual actions as this is an area in which there are issues that can, should and need to changed. I am sure I am not the only one with direct action experience, including running training camps and workshops that has noted some serious issues with Sea Shepherd approach to actions. I am focussing on the actions in the southern ocean that are also presented in the Animal Planet documentary (for lack of a better description) series Whale Wars.

To pre-empt potential criticisms about selective editing in the portrayals of Sea Shepherd actions in Whale Wars, the approach to actions is still very clear. A simplistic example is the repeated use of imagery of one of the ‘small boats’ flipping whilst being lowered. This was captured during the first season, yet is used in the opening sequent of the second season. It has visual value to the marketing of the series, yet the underlying reasons behind this thankfully without harm accident are there irrespective of the coverage. These issues are clear in the pre and post actions and comments of more experienced Sea Shepherd staff and campaigners. The actions are hyper-masculine, hierarchical and very non-sustaining. These are very interlinked and I will try to explain each clearly.

The hyper-masculine basis of the actions can be seen in the very blasé attitude of the more established members of the crew. There are various examples where the newer members of the crew, with limited training, and I use the term very lightly, are expected to be able to carry out all aspect of an action safely and effectively. It is the area of safety that is of serious concern given the location of the actions — life threatening after even small errors in judgment. You may try to excuse the lack of training away based on the urgency of the actions. The source, however, is a blasé masculinist attitude of being able to just do it: she’ll be right. It embodies an ideology that whatever the outcomes of our actions we are ‘tough enough’ to deal with them.

The very limited, inadequate/non-existent training provided to new members of the crew is very non-sustaining. Sustainable activism is essential to all movements — not only do we want people to continue to be active and seek change, we want those who have learned skills to continue utlise them and pass them on to others. This passing on is quite limited in the Sea Shepherd actions, and the implications of this are very clear in the high turnover of new members each year (also directly linked to the hyper-masculinist attitudes and approach that dominate). Consider how much more effective the actions would be if there were a significant number of skilled-up activists each year.

Being non-sustaining reinforces and perpetuates existing hierarchies. It also protects the status of established crew. This is not necessarily intentional. It can also be intentional, if unconscious (irrespective of their attitude). Many of the established crew have worked for years to get Sea Shepherd to where it is, having come through the trials and tribulations that new crew members experience to a far lesser extent. These past efforts expended foster a sense of ownership and the burnout associated with a prevalent absence of the support required for sustaining the self — widespread in most activist circles, and an issue that has received some, if far from enough, movement attention — can reinforce this via a perception that attribution is not fairly ascribed (comes to easy to those who came on board late).

In the last few days, I noted another example of the hyper-masculine. The Sea Shepherd facebook page was updated with recent actions. In the comment section, a response to a critical comment (the context of the original was not very clear) was

‘until your booty is out there doing something and not sitting behind a computer. The only thing you should be doing is giving praise for what these people do.’

Unpacking this comment opens up many issues for discussion (the issue of online v in person action is something I am currently writing about elsewhere). A core theme is if your body is not on the line, the action you take is less valued, perhaps not even worthwhile. This ties back to the boat-flipping footage used in the opening credits of Whale Wars. The actions of those in the boat has cemented them as real activists as they have put their body on the line — irrespective that they were not giving an adequate level of training. They are now hardcore. Such notions have been a common undercurrent in direct action (not universal) for some time. This is often a very uninformed view to hold, aside from the hyper-masculinity inherent.

To finish this up, the notion of putting your body on the line as being more valuable, even real, activism has significant masculinist overtones that we need to critically reflect on. That such ideas underpin a lack of adequate skill-sharing and training, fostered by and fostering (self-reinforcing) a mentality that ‘new’ activists need to earn their stripes (intentional use of cliché) and put up or shut up clearly illustrate this issue. There is a need to appreciate the actions of seasoned activists and what they have gone through, yet we need to create a more supportive atmosphere and sustainable approach for both the new and the more seasoned activists.

Dr Tiller’s murder, moral relativism and activism

After reading another comment on the murder of Dr George Tiller, I put some more thought into my reaction and reflections more generally on reproductive freedom — and also the actions of those opposed to a women’s right to choose (how they present, often non-considered, challenges to those undertaking action on social justice/environmental/animal issues). I have long supported a women’s right to choose, though still had some questions I had been unable to fully address. I think I have now come to a point where I am able to address lingering questions I had, albeit without a basis free from potential criticism.

There have been numerous responses to the murder of Dr Tiller, some directly addressing the support and services the Wichita clinic provided for women, with some demonising these and others selectively addressing these (i.e. leaving aside what are perceived as the more controversial). It was the coverage on Democracy Now! that spawned further thought, and led me to being able to address some of the long held questions I had. These thoughts were very much shaped by the (no directly related) writings of Michel Foucault, a conversation I had with Antonio Negri, and the prolific work of Gene Sharp — specifically his consent theory of power — that have emerged from more than 50 years of research into the tactics, strategies and effectiveness of nonviolent action.

Unlike some other coverage from the left,the Democracy Now! coverage unwaveringly detailed the services provided by the Wichita clinic, specifically mentioning the second trimester (elective and therapeutic) abortions and third-trimester therapeutic abortions. Whilst I have long supported a women’s right over her own body, there were some questions/aspects I had not been able to find cognitive closure with. I had always fallen back to it coming down to control over one’s body, because it is a women’s body. My concerns were related to non-theraputic late term abortions.

Before I go over the basis for this inability to achieve cognitive closure, nonviolence and consent theory of power require defining. Whilst some may argue semantics, non-violence and nonviolence are different concepts. Non-violence is an oppositional framework, whereas nonviolence is a different concept and approach. There have been debates amongst proponents as to whether a different term to nonviolence would be more effective based on the potential misunderstandings. Brian Martin provides a succinct description of Gene Sharp’s theory, which is based on a pluralist conception of political power:

people in society may be divided into rulers and subjects; the power of the rulers derives from consent by the subjects; non-violent action is a process of withdrawing consent and thus is a way to challenge the key modern problems of dictatorship, genocide, war and systems of oppression (Martin 1989: 213).

Gene Sharp provides a clear delineation between consent achieved through ‘obedience’ as opposed to ‘coercion’:

If, for example, a [wo]man who is ordered to go to prison refuses to do so and is physically dragged there (that is, [s]he is coerced by direct physical violation), [s]he cannot be said to obey… But if [s]he walks to prison under a command backed by threat of a sanction, then [s]he in fact obeys and consents to the act, although [s]he may not approve of the command. Obedience thus exists only when one has complied with or submitted to the command (Sharp 1973: 27).

The basis for outlining consent theory of power is to illustrate that the exercise of power is the exercise of power over another. It is when we have power exercised over ourselves, or are in a position that someone can exercise power over us, that we can feel quite uncomfortable — in the sense of control, or a lack of it. For many, whether it is someone who is opposed to reproductive freedom, this lack of control can be a source of their will to act (i.e. to gain control over a situation). It is much the same for other taking action on other causes.

In regards to late term/third-trimester therapeutic abortions, those opposed to the procedure base the views on their moral outlook. This gets to the source of the issue. To impose on others is to impose moral authority based on the assumption one’s beliefs are morally superior. This is something quite common and pervasive. In regards to abortion, further use of medical technologies that assist a fetus is living independently of the mother’s body (i.e. ‘viability’ of the fetus) and attempts to delineate therapeutic abortion from the process based on (or, perhaps more accurately, represented as) a personal choice can only further this.

How do we address different moral perspectives? Do we merely accept difference? There are pitfalls — some clear, some not sox. The first, and more general, is the notion of moral relativism and being lost in a sea of differing perspectives. Stephen Lukes has given the challenges and pitfalls of moral relativism some significant thought. An easily digestible account was provided on Against the Grain when C.S. Soong interviewed Lukes about his recent book so titled.

What may be a simple way to reflect on some of the pitfalls with moral relativism is the practice of female genital mutilation. In using those terms to refer to the practice, I have already positioned it in a certain way (i.e. Mutilation = bad). Yet, what if the women consents. What if this is consent beyond coercion (referring to the consent theory of power)? How do you respond if coerced? How would you respond if it was consented to? The latter is more a challenge to moral relativism. The former, many may find taking action to be justified.

To bring it back to the murder of Dr Tiller, are the actions of those who have targeted Doctors who provide such services any different from the actions of those who target vivisector’s, or other corporate criminals? Are these not based on moral assumptions? Where is the line drawn? For a number of years, there have been deference’s to the notion of ‘all tools in the toolbox’ by animal and environmental activists. Yet how many would support the use of the same tactics by those they oppose? I have commented on these issues before, though the seem to prop up sporadically… I think the issue is clear — whatever actions you use in support of your cause, you cannot speak out when others do so.

Martin, B. 1989. ‘Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power’, Journal of Peace Research, 36(2).

Sharp, G. 1973. The Politics of Nonviolent Action: Part One – Power and Struggle, Boston: Porter Sargent.