was a watershed for the anti-globalization movement. It's clear now that
this is a life or death struggle in the First World, as it has always
been in the Third World. How we respond will determine whether repression
destroys us or strengthens us. To come back stronger, we have to understand
what actually happened there.
The media are telling one story about Genoa: a small group of violent protestors
got out of hand and the police overreacted. I've heard variations on this
from within the movement: the Black Bloc was allowed to get out of hand
to justify police violence.
But that's not what happened in Genoa, and framing the problem that way
will keep us focused on the wrong questions.
Let's be clear: In Genoa we encountered a carefully orchestrated political
campaign of state terrorism.
The campaign included disinformation; the use of infiltrators and provocateurs;
collusion with avowed Fascist groups; the deliberate targeting of nonviolent
groups for tear gas and beating; endemic police brutality; the torture
of prisoners; the political persecution of the organizers; and a terrorist
night raid on sleeping people by special forces wearing "Polizia" T-shirts
under black sweatshirts, who broke bones, smashed teeth, and bashed in
the skulls of nonresisting protestors.
They did all this openly, in a way that indicates they had no fear of repercussions
and expected political protection from the highest sources. That expectation
implicates not only the proto-Fascist Berlusconi regime of Italy, but by
association, the rest of the G8 -- especially the U.S. since it now appears
that Los Angeles County sheriffs helped train the most brutal of the special
Italy has a history of the employment of such tactics, going back to the "strategy
of tension" used against the left in the 1070s. In fact, it goes even
further back to the '20s and '30s -- which don't seem all that far away
any more, once you've heard prisoners describe being tortured in rooms
with pictures of Mussolini on the walls. Maybe even back to the Renaissance,
if not the ancient Romans.
The same tactics have, of course, been used extensively by U.S. agencies
and other countries. Italy also has a political culture of highly confrontational
actions and street fighting with the police. This is also true of strong
pacifist groups and groups like the Tute Biancha who are exploring new
political territory that goes beyond the traditional definitions of violence
All of this set the stage upon which the events of the G8 protest were
The police used the Black Bloc -- or more accurately, the myth and image
of the Black Bloc -- very effectively in Genoa, for their ends, not ours.
Some aspects of Black Bloc tactics made that easy: the anonymity, the masks
and easily identifiable dress code, the willingness to engage in more confrontational
tactics and in property damage, and perhaps most significant, the lack
of connection with the rest of the action and the organizers.
But the Black Bloc was not the source of the problem in Genoa. The problem
was state, police and Fascist violence. Acts were done in Genoa, attributed
to protestors, that were irresponsible and wrong by anyone's standards.
But it seems likely now that most of them were done by police. On the other
hand, police provocateurs were so endemic that it was impossible to tell
what might have been done by people in our movement or to hold anyone accountable.
So the issue Genoa presents us with is not "How do we control the
violent elements among us?"-- although that conceivably might be an
issue some day. It's "How do we forestall another campaign of lies,
police-instigated violence, and retaliation?"
There's no easy answer to that question. The simplest strategy would be
to go back to a strict form of nonviolence, which many people are proposing.
I don't know why I find myself in resistance to that answer. I'm a longtime
advocate of nonviolence, I have no intention of ever throwing a brick through
a window or lobbing a rock at a cop myself. In general I think breaking
windows and fighting cops in a mass action is counterproductive at best
and suicidal at worst.
One reason might be that I can no longer use the same word to describe
what I've seen even the most unruly elements of our movement do in actions
and what the cops did in Genoa. If breaking windows and fighting back when
the cops attack is "violence", then give me a new word -- a word
a thousand times stronger -- to use when the cops are beating nonresisting
people into comas.
Or I may just like the Black Bloc. I've been in many actions now where
the Black Bloc was a strong presence. In Seattle I was royally pissed off
at them for what I saw as their unilateral decision to violate agreements
everyone else accepted. In Washington in 2000, I saw that they abided by
guidelines they disagreed with and had no part in making, and I respected
them for it. I've sat under the hooves of the police horses with some of
them when we stopped a sweep of a crowded street using tactics Gandhi himself
could not have criticized. I've choked with them in the tear gas in Quebec
City and seen them refrain from property damage there when confronted by
I've bonded. Yes, there have been times I've been furious with some of
them, but they're my comrades and allies in this struggle and I don't want
to see them excluded or demonized. We need them, or something like them.
We need room in the movement for rage, for impatience, for militant fervor,
for an attitude that says, "We are badass, kickass folks and we will
tear this system down." If we cut that off, we devitalize ourselves.
We also need the Gandhian pacifists. We need room for compassion, for faith,
for an attitude that says, "My hands will do the works of mercy and
not the works of war." We need those who refuse to engage in violence
because they do not want to live in a violent world.
And we need space for those of us who are trying to explore forms of struggle
that fall outside the categories. We need radical creativity, space to
experiment, to carve out new territory, to invent new tactics, to make
There are campaigns being waged now that are defined as clearly and strictly
nonviolent: the School of the Americas, Vandenberg, Vieques, among others.
Those guidelines have been respected, and no black clad, brick throwing
figures have attempted to impose other tactics. But the actions directed
against the big summits have drawn their strength from a much broader political
spectrum -- from unions and NGOs to anarchist revolutionaries. All these
groups feel a certain ownership of the issue and the fat, juicy targets
that the summits represent.
How do we create a political space that can hold these contradictions,
and still survive the intense repression directed against us? How do we
go where no social movement has ever gone before?
Maybe these are the questions we really need to ask. In a life or death
situation, there's a great temptation to attempt to exert more control,
to set rules, to police each other, to retreat to what seems like safe
ground. But all my instincts tell me that going back to what seems safe
and tried and true is a mistake. As an anarchist, I'm not interested in
doing any kind of police work. I want to call each other to greater, not
lesser freedom, knowing that also means greater responsibility and greater
Using provocateurs to instigate violence which can be blamed on dissenters
and used to justify repression is a time tested, generally successful way
of destroying radical movements. But it's a strategy that thrives on the
familiar, the expected. Identifying provocateurs in the midst of an action
is like trying to spray for a pest in the garden: the toxicity of the spray,
of the suspicion, secrecy and lack of trust, may be as great as that of
the pest. But plants can resist pests if they are grown in healthy soil.
To forestall infiltration and provocateurs, we need to examine the soil
of our movement.
I'd like to suggest three nutrients that can make us more pest resistant:
communication, solidarity and creativity.
We can no longer afford to wage parallel but disconnected struggles at
the same demonstration. We need to clearly state our intentions and goals
for each action, and ask others to support them. We may need to argue and
struggle with each, to negotiate, to compromise. Articulating a clear set
of agreements about tactics may at times be the best way to forestall provocateurs.
But agreements are only agreements when everyone participates in making
them. If one wing of the movement attempts to impose them, they are not
agreements but decrees, and moreovoer, decrees that will not be respected
and that we have no power to enforce.
That communication involves risk on both sides, but those risks have to
be taken, intelligently and thoughtfully, of course. We need to put a higher
priority on our communication than on our standing with our funding sources
or our security culture. If my tactic of choice makes it impossible for
me to talk to you, I need to question whether it's an appropriate tactic
for a mass action. In that dialogue, we actually have to struggle to respect
each other. No one gets to claim the moral high ground. None of us get
to exclusively set the agenda, determine the form of what we do or decree
the politics. Those who advocate nonviolence, a chief tenet of which is
to respect your opponent, need to practice it within the movement. You
can't just dismiss the Black Bloc and other militant groups as 'negative
rebels' or immature adolescents acting out. They have a political perspective
that is serious, thoughtful, and deserves to be taken seriously. But it
also means that more militant groups need to stop dismissing those who
advocate nonviolence as middle-class, passive, and cowardly.
The Black Bloc is widely respected for its courage, but it takes another
kind of courage to sit down in front of the riot cops without sticks or
rocks or Molotovs. It takes courage to have your identity known, to organize
in your own city where you can't disappear but must stand and face the
consequences. `Nonviolent' does not equate with nonconfrontational', or
with wanting to be safe on the sidelines. The essence of nonviolent political
struggle is to create intense confrontations that highlight the violence
in the system, and then to stand and openly take the consequences. In today's
repressive climate, where 88-year-old nuns are being given year-long prison
sentences for completely pacific actions, the risks of nonviolence may
be much higher than the risks of anonymous street fighting.
We need to communicate clearly with the larger community as well, proactively,
not reactively. We have to let people know what our intentions are and
what the parameters of the action might be.
Imagine the Black Bloc putting out a Crimestopper leaflet: "If you
see a group of masked figures looting small shops, burning private cars,
and endangering your children, get their badge numbers! They are the cops!
Because we're the Black Bloc, and that's not what we do."
We need to talk to the not-already-converted, door to door, face to face,
not to lecture them but to ask about their lives and the effects these
issues have on them, and to ask them to show support for us. We need to
be in real solidarity with each other. Solidarity is not just about refraining
from denouncing each other to the media, or holding vigils for those in
jail. It means putting the good of the whole above our immediate individual
desires or even safety. It means supporting each other's intentions and
goals, even when we only partially agree with them. Not just by saying, "You
do your thing and I'll do mine," but by actually taking responsibility
for our actions and for the impact they have on others beyond ourselves
or our immediate group.
Greater freedom demands greater responsibility. In a mass action, individual
decisions have a collective impact. Some tactics are like the loud-voiced
guy in the meeting: they take up all the available space and make it impossible
for anyone else to be heard. Cops are not creatures of fine distinctions.
If one group is throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing shop windows, it
may well affect how the police react to the pacifist group a block over.
The community, too, may miss the subtle difference between burning the
neighborhood bank and burning the neighborhood store. So, just as the loud
guy has to learn to step back occasionally and shut up to give others a
chance to be heard, high confrontation tactics sometimes need to be restrained
just to allow other possibilities to exist.
Solidarity is about what we do on the street. It means protecting each
other as best we can, and certainly not deliberately endangering each other.
Of course, one group's idea of protection may be another group's idea of
endangerment. A barricade may seem protective, but if your strategy is
to de-escalate tension, a barricade may actually make your situation more
dangerous. We need to respect each other's choices.
Solidarity means that if I'm sitting down in front of a line of riot cops and
you're behind me, I can trust that you're restraining the crowd behind from trampling
me, not throwing a rock over my head. And that if you push through a line of
cops and I'm behind you, I'm there to support you, not restrain you. We have
a right to ask for solidarity from everyone who wants to be out on the street
Solidarity is also about holding each other accountable, critiquing what we do
together with the purpose of learning from our mistakes and becoming more effective.
Critiquing is not attacking: a good critique is a mark of respect. It's saying, "I
know that you and I share a common interest in making this work better."
Perhaps, most of all, we need to be creative. Maybe, just to stimulate our thinking,
we need to mount one action with one simple guideline: No tired, overused tactics
allowed. No cross-the-line symbolic arrests, no bricks through the windows of
Starbucks. And please, please, no boring chants that have been recycled since
the Vietnam War, if not before. ("Hey hey, ho ho, King George the Third
has got to go!") At least this would be a useful thought experiment.
We need to think outside the fences and the boxes. We need to do the unexpected,
change clothes, change tactics, be where they don't expect us to be, doing what
they don't expect us to do. If they expect us to trash McDonalds, we're there
disrupting its operations by giving out free food and asking the workers how
globalization affects them. If they expect militants to dress in black, then
the militants go lavender and the pacifists stage a Funeral for Democracy, surrounding
the White House dressed in black mourning and veils. If they expect us to walk
up quietly in groups of five to get arrested, we disappear and reappear somewhere
else entirely. If the hardcore streetfighters pull down a fence, the 88-year-
old nuns are the first through into the red zone. If they block off the meeting
and concentrate their defenses on a wall, we claim the rest of the city. If they
hide the summits in inaccessible locations, we choose our own turf.
These are hard challenges, but these are hard times too, and they're not getting
easier. I've already seen too many movements splinter and fail or grandstand
themselves to death in ever more extreme and suicidal acts, or suffocate from
I want to win this revolution. I don't think we have the ecological and social
leeway to mount another one if this fails. And the odds of winning are so slim
that we can't afford to be anything but smart, strategic, and tight with one
another. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder, even when we disagree. And if
we can do that, if we can hold these differences within our movement, we'll have
taken a step toward meeting the much greater challenges we'll face when we do
win, and come to remake a deeply diverse world.
(Thanks to Lisa Fithian, Hilary McQuie and David Miller
for contributory discussions.)