Anti-Olympics protest tactics scrutinized

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      An SFU expert on anarchism contends that actions like the anti-Olympics riot on February 13 have a legitimate place in broad social-change movements.

      Although many people, including activist-lawyer David Eby, are upset about the acts of vandalism committed by masked protesters, history professor Mark Leier is also arguing that it’s a mistake to consider such deeds violence.

      Leier is the director of SFU’s Centre for Labour Studies. He told the Georgia Straight that although the protest was neither quiet nor peaceful, it was “more in the way of disturbance than it was violence directed against people”.

      “I have a strong suspicion that the kinds of protests that we’re talking about—the smashing of windows—may have created more space for the so-called respectable protest movements,” Leier said in a phone interview. “What I mean by that is the media coverage that I’ve heard so far over the last couple of weeks has been, ”˜The Olympics are coming. This is going to be great. Oh, yeah, there’s going to be some protests.’ Then what we’ve heard was”¦”˜Oh, my gosh! Some of these protesters broke things. But look, there’s always respectable protesters. Let’s talk to them and see what they want to talk about.’ ”

      Leier also pointed out that British Columbia has a “long tradition of people creating disruptions to draw attention to their causes”.

      This includes the 1912 free-speech riots by workers protesting the ban on public assemblies. Leier puts in the same category the historic train trek from B.C. to Ottawa by workers who went on a general strike to demand better working conditions and wages in 1935.

      Plus, the historian cited the 1938 occupation of the Vancouver post office by unemployed workers, an action that drew popular support.

      Leier added that several movements, including the hippie phenomenon during the 1960s, were largely inspired by—and employed tactics associated with—anarchism, a term that he said should be distinguished from anarchy.

      “Anarchy tends to mean lawlessness, no order,” Leier explained. “Anarchism, though, is a political ideology that says that people do not need an authoritarian state to live in harmony. Anarchists don’t say that the world should simply be chaotic. What they say is that human beings can actually live together without force. And we all have examples of that in our everyday lives. Car pools, for example. There are lots of things that we do without having somebody say, ”˜You will do it this way, and if you don’t, there will be penalties.’ ”

      The Straight caught up with Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, during the 19th annual march for murdered and missing women on February 14 in the Downtown Eastside.

      Eby was wearing the standard orange shirt issued to Olympic observers, who, he noted, were trained for free-speech events like that day’s march and the largely peaceful demonstration on the opening day of the Games on February 12.

      Referring to that demonstration, Eby declared: “It was just a wonderful event, a lot of free speech and it was great, and then to see all that disappear the next day was very frustrating.”

      With regard to the February 13 event dubbed by organizers the 2010 Heart Attack, Eby said: “I don’t see that there’s any place for those kinds of actions if we’re going to be encouraging free speech. If you want to speak your point of view in favour of or opposed to the Olympics, there should be space for that. You shouldn’t expect someone to put a chair through your front window.”

      For Leier, the anarchist ideal is a time when people—not their leaders—decide for themselves what form of action they need to fight for their interests

      Comments

      25 Comments

      Strategis

      Feb 18, 2010 at 3:22am

      It's refreshing to see a thoughtful and informed comment on the Saturday protests.

      In a democratic society that upholds the principles of freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and a measured and lawful response to violations of laws and city ordinances, there are bound to be a variety of perspectives on every issue, and a wide variety of actions that different people consider legitimate and warranted. The chief challenge for members of a free and democratic society is to accept this diversity and try to listen to everyone, even those whose opinions or values you don't share. If there is a segment of society whose behavior is impacting you, at least take the time to go on the internet for a few minutes and find out what they are really about. Only through this kind of sympathetic tolerance and active listening can a free and democratic society retain its open and friendly character, because through the openness to varying viewpoints all people can be enriched by the experiences and perspectives of others, communicate meaningfully, and find accomodation for each other in a peaceful fashion.

      Of course, we all are rightfully wary about actions which interfere with the rights of others, and this is a critical debate in society. The anarchists are not only sensitive to this issue - they have a superlatively high level of sensitivity to just this issue. As a result, anarchists are perhaps able to see past the charade of civility that corporations, governments, police, courts and military deliberately construct to justify their actions - actions which often dramatically infringe on the rights of people, from individuals to entire segments of society. It is exactly because of this heightened awareness to the crimes of governments, corporations and police that some anarchists occasionally choose to perform acts of minor property damage to symbolise their lack of respect for these institutions.

      This rift between the anarchists' sensitivities to gross and frequently ignored institutional injustice and abuse on the one hand, and the neoliberal / neoconservative / peacenik's greater focus on finer niceties such as avoiding causing a social disturbance, minor property damage, or offending anyone's feelings, creates a tension between the two groups that I think can only be bridged by a greater effort on the part of the general populace to research a little on the internet into the thoughts and concerns of anarchists. Though this will probably not win alot of converts, the paranoia level and hysterical response to the anarchists' behavior may nevertheless be replaced by some calm understanding and faith that even the most radical group of protestors in Canada is not fundamentally hostile to the core principles that animate and unite Canadian civil society.

      Anarchists just have a different slant on where the chief issues we are faced with as a society are, and on what the appropriate level of urgency should be to confront these issues. When any group feels as strongly as this group does that there is something strongly amiss in society, I think they deserve a few minutes of everyone's time to air their opinions and then some thoughful consideration afterwards, even if on the face of it their ideas seem absurd or off the wall.

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      How dumb

      Feb 18, 2010 at 4:34am

      This ranks as one of the dumbests most irresponsible news stories I have ever read. Of course the Strait would run it. Justifying such extreme violence or saying positive things about it is ludicrous.

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      Mike Cantelon

      Feb 18, 2010 at 9:44am

      @How dumb:

      Whatever your opinion of the validity of vandalism as political expression, I don't know if you can reasonably call breaking windows "extreme violence".

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      Tom D

      Feb 18, 2010 at 12:05pm

      @Mike

      Exactly! I can't believe how often I'm hearing this referred to as 'that awful violence downtown' or some such. It's ridiculous. I'm not saying that breaking windows and stomping newspaper boxes is the best way to garner publicity for one's cause, but 1) It's not the worst thing you could do, and 2) People don't pay attention unless it involves someone getting hurt, killed or arrested.

      So whatever, the Bay can afford it, and now more people are aware that not everyone is down with this event being held in their city. I don't have a problem with that.

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      Dumber

      Feb 18, 2010 at 12:12pm

      The criminal acts were not only limited to property destruction ( public and private) but also included assaults on police officers, which I personally witnessed, and verbal and physical intimidation of both media and bystanders. So, to suggest that protesters "broke things" is inane. Moreover, I love the contradiction in that the professors statement about anarchists beliefs on how human beings can live together without force in an article about the use of force by anarchist protestors. Nice to ahve a professor's job where the taxpayer has funded 80% of the cost of his education up to the Phd level and now collects a slaray again at taxpayer expense. Wouls expect a little more insight for my tax dollars.

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      Carmen2009

      Feb 18, 2010 at 8:03pm

      Let me see if I got this right...it's not violence when it involves material goods? By extension of this weird piece of logic, then bombing a city where no one dies is not violent. Tell that to anyone living in the middle east.
      Big deal that the Bay can afford to replace its broken windows...insurance will pay for it and with raise in their insurance premiums for having made a claim...will now pass on the increased cost to all of its customers. Do hear that sound? It's the sound of a $25 t-shirt going up another $3 because some idiot can't figure out how to 'use his words' like a freakin' grown-up.

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      blahblah

      Feb 18, 2010 at 8:19pm

      Hey Prof, In case you haven't noticed even the "legitimate" protesters think these juveniles are out of line. Must be nice to live in an ivory tower and speculate about things you have no direct contact with. Why don't you speak to the elder chinese man who was assaulted. The black block (named after a fascist organization) doesn't respect other viewpoints. They are just selfish hypocrites!!

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      Gah

      Feb 18, 2010 at 8:55pm

      I'm against the Olympics and was going to march on Saturday, but this act failed to garner public support, and it succeeded in gaining public ire, so it's a failure, no matter how you spin it or condone it.
      We've lost a lot of the sympathy we did have; I don't care about The Bay or TD's windows, but I do care about a hurt cause. People pretend that there's a majority of us against the Olympics standing strong, but it's so many big words, I was proud to be one of few willing to stand up against this, but this is just embarrassing.
      There wouldn't be all these articles and blogs in 'defense' of the Heart Attack if there wasn't such a nearly universal sentiment against it, from our side as much as the mainstream media.
      What a pathetic, temper tantrum that turned into, still so disenfranchised. Maybe I'll go watch the Hockey Game.

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      Comrade Black

      Feb 18, 2010 at 10:59pm

      the stupidity of the framing of this debate as violence-vs nonviolence is beyond me.

      Has no one realized that those who are being accused of arguing for violence (aka, anyone who defends, or does not condemn the actions of the black bloc) are actually arguing for economic destruction of privately owned property, not violence (windows don't feel pain), property owned by corporations that daily perpetrate violence & have a history of violence (sweatshops, colonialism, genocide).
      Where as the those who the media (& Liberals) claim are against violence (aka anyone willing to condemn the breaking of windows) are actually in support of law enforcement, & supported the cops who very violently subdued the "protesters" including football tackling a person to a pole and repeatedly hitting a 17 year old girl with a baton. The cops were out there with live ammunition, the LRAD and an entire arsenal of weaponry. There is video of the cops very violently attacking protesters who in most cases are not even defending themselves or resisting.

      Seriously, everyone can claim all they want that they don't support violence, but unless you are doing anything to stop real violence (including police violence) then we all condone violence, the only real question is which kinds of violence do you support and which kinds do you not?

      If people want to condemn the anarchists because they used so called violence they need to also condemn the police use of force as well.

      And if people did nothing, took no action, what right do they have to critisize those people who took action for using tactics that they don't agree with?

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      Mye

      Feb 19, 2010 at 12:31am

      Yeah, this whole thing is just retarded... and to top it all off, the police knew well enough not to arrest/beatdown everyone involved, which would've at least made them look sortofkindof bad. Bloody hell, the olympics is such a huge target, how could you possibly miss? "let's fuckin break shit guys! It'll totally win the sympathy of the CBC watching public!"

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