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Some thoughts on the recent SF Chronicle article …

Posted on May 7th, 2012 in Current Events

I answered the warehouse door the other day and was ambushed by a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. The resulting story and the “quote” attributed to me requires some response.

First I want to make it clear that I am in full support of a diversity of tactics when it comes to protest – including Black Bloc-type tactics. What I was commenting on was the apparent random destruction and vandalism committed on the eve of May Day in San Francisco’s Mission District. I mentioned that many who were present felt that these were agents provocateurs. If that is the case then they have succeeded in turning public opinion against Occupy – if these were real protestors then I feel that their actions were counterproductive in this instance. Smashing the car windows of the SF Gay Men’s Chorus isn’t going to create converts to your cause. That specifically is what I was referring to when I said that Black Bloc-type tactics can be counterproductive.

But it is important to understand that that is my personal opinion and not the position of AK Press. AK Press is a collective made up of individuals, and we don’t all agree on this, just like we don’t all agree within the anarchist movement as a whole on all tactical choices. When I asked other collective members about it, we all shared some amount of concern over the repeated infiltration of the black bloc by the police, and the state’s use of the “black-masked anarchist” trope to escalate violence in otherwise non-violent situations, but we differed on our feelings on the usefulness of the Black Bloc as a tactical approach, in part based on our different experiences personally with the Bloc.

For example, one person said “I think there’s a time and a place for Black Bloc tactics – I’ve been in mobilizations where the Bloc actually de-escalated situations with the cops, or drew the aggression of riot cops away from a peaceful march so that the march could continue unimpeded. I can’t speak to the situation in the Bay specifically since I don’t live there, but I definitely think that Bloc tactics have been, and continue to be, useful elements in our varied collection of approaches to social and political action.”

Another collective member agreed: “I’ve seen the black bloc serve various purposes – some worse, some better than others. In my experience, the most effective actions were those served as diversionary or defensive forces for other actions.”

But, someone added, “the mainstream fear of the black bloc is misguided and, in my opinion, based on a fetishization of property. The predominant critiques on the left stem from a sense that the destruction of property and clashes with the police do little to undermine that fetishization. However, my sense is that the black bloc isn’t going anywhere and that tension will have to resolved in some fashion. Ultimately the state will always find a way to demonize and criminalize radical action it deems a threat, regardless of whether it’s a show of force or not. We have to decide which actions we want to take the heat for and which aren’t effective enough to be worth it.”

So, it seems that our small collective is a microcosm of the debate that continues to rage throughout the movement. The important thing is to keep talking about these kinds of questions, and to take the time to understand where each other are coming from. This has been an interesting invitation to our collective to think about some of these questions in greater detail, and we’re happy to share that with you!