If you’re following me on Twitter recently, you’ll notice that Twitter looks similar now to when it was during the Olympics, with people denouncing OccupyVancouver like people denounced the Anti-Olympic convergence. What we’re finding is that a lot of the new people who initially supported it are turning out to not be cut out for this whole activist changing-the-world thing because they are either racist, sexist, or in fact are so in love with the police that they aren’t willing to consider a viewpoint that doesn’t come from the Vancouver Police Department.
While the reality on the ground is totally different than what you see on Twitter, it’s easy for any new person to get discouraged by the pointless bullshit. So, let’s go through all the claims and debunk them one by one, shall we?
OccupyVancouver is not about issues of Homelessness, Poverty or First Nations Issues - FALSE</strong>
The statement “We are the 99%” is meaningless. We are the 99% of what? Of people on the planet? This rhetoric doesn’t make any sense and is populism run amok. Also, there was a criticism early on that the movement was lacking persons of colour as well as not being reflective of First Nations issues. This was something that Occupy Wall Street faced, something that Occupy Oakland deals with and something OccupyVancouver has to deal with as well.
The fact is that the #Occupy movement is a Big Tent movement. This means that by their very nature they are inclusive of everyone, not just the people self-appointed leaders like the initial organizers of the various occupations. Luckily the reality at Occupy Vancouver and the IRC chatter are proving that person wrong, since it has mostly been very inclusive.
I am thinking of visiting other occupations before the year is out, but so far it looks like I’ll only be able to drop by OccupyKamloops on the way up to my parents house. Assuming that I don’t get called a CSIS agent again, it should be good times.
The Black Bloc/First Nations/Campers/whatever has hijacked the protest</strong> - FALSE
The fact is that OccupyVancouver, like any other open movement is governed by the law of two feet. If you don’t show up and be active in the movement, someone else will. If the current group of people who are at OccupyVancouver are anti-cop, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial, and you don’t agree with that position, then you are welcome to take it to the GA. So far, very few things are set in stone beyond the non-violence portion, which is flawed because different people have different definitions of violence.
Secondly, if you are going to put your position forward, you have to have the guts to stand up in front of everyone and put that position forward. Last night, a man in a Vancouver 2010 Volunteer jacket (often known as a smurf by local Vancouverites) went to the stage, said that the people at the Art Gallery don’t live in Vancouver (which is false, I live here), said that OccupyVancouver was ruining the province (as if Mining, Logging, Global Warming and Pipelines weren’t), and that everyone should pack up and go home (which is hard for those at the camp who don’t have a home). While everyone found flaws with the smurf’s statement, he was able to make that statement. People who believe that the event was hijacked by the Black Bloc or the native elders at the tent village could easily make their statements.
If anything, the privileged “middle-class” people who started this thing, and are now claiming that it is hijacked have actually abandoned it, and the people who have been fighting injustice for years found the ball and ran with it. We call this do-ocracy! In short, it is about Income and Economic Disparity, and the fact that this causes Homelessness, Colonialism and Substance Abuse means that it is about the local issues as well.
In short, Occupy belongs to the participants. It’s not a piece of property that belongs to just a few.
The Black Bloc and their supporters all work for CSIS - FALSE</strong>
I’m going to take a different tactic on this one. Instead of talking about the usual “The Black Bloc is a tactic” critique, I’m going to talk about some easily verifiable facts about CSIS. First of all, CSIS itself only has about 3000 employees total for the entire country. That means that most of the tales you hear about CSIS spying on every single activist group are false. It’s actually the RCMP or the VPD spying on activist groups, but if you read this blog often enough, you probably already knew that.
Secondly, to work for CSIS, you have to be bilingual, since it’s a federal government job. My written French might pass, but my verbal french is horrible so I’d be bumped out for that alone, combined with the fact that I have a long history in various Not-for-profit and Social Justice movements, and have posted the last three years of my life on the Internet, either for work, or documents collected by the RCMP during my time with the Olympic Resistance Network. The fact is that there’s not enough bilingual people who are willing to work for CSIS to actually make up those numbers. I’m sure you can come up with other theories behind it, but they would have been found out by now, since paying people to protest has a very nasty paper trail.
Thirdly, if CSIS really was behind the Black Bloc, why do they appear at every major protest on the planet? Remember that every time there’s a Black Bloc, CSIS would have to mobilize a large group of people to dress all in black and that this would have to be accounted for. The fact is that Governments are really bad about conspiracy theories, and this conspiracy theory would be trivially easy to unmask, since it’s easy to find CSIS in the first place if you’re not a complete incompetent.
Finally, the Black Bloc consists of the participants. If you don’t want the Black Bloc to appear, or you want to make sure that the Black Bloc doesn’t have a huge impact at your protest, SHOW UP! The Black Bloc was at both the Welcoming Committee march against the Olympics and 2010 Heart Attack. They were the minority at the Welcoming Committee march against the games and the majority at 2010 Heart Attack. Also, if you don’t want the black bloc smashing shit, you can talk about Black Bloc tactics at the GA like what Occupy Oakland did</a>. The fact is that if people communicate and determine what is OK and what is not, this goes a long way instead of just dictating upon high a position taken by an organization that most people have never heard of.
People who don’t comply with the Police are Violent - FALSE</strong>
If you decide to confront the state, you actually at some point have to confront the state. This can take different forms, and is a personal choice, but the reality is that you have to decide what that resistance to the state and corporate power looks like. The terms of engagement have been set by the Occupy movement such that it is Non-Violent. However, non-violence doesn’t mean compliance, and it doesn’t mean cowardice. Most people seem to love Gandhi for this, but here’s my favourite Gandhi quote:
“Cowardice is impotence worse than violence. The coward desires revenge but being afraid to die, he looks to others, maybe to the government of the day, to do the work of defense for him. A coward is less than a man. He does not deserve to be a member of a society of men and women.” </em>
That means that if you actually believe in something enough, you should be willing to stand up for it and risk arrest for it. Now, while I’m fine with risking myself, I have a child that depends on me, and it would be irresponsible for me to put myself at risk like that. I was pushing my luck at the Olympics. However, if I didn’t have a kid, I’d be camping, and I’d be part of that human chain defending the fire. Non-Violence doesn’t mean compliance, and it doesn’t mean being a coward or giving a shit if the cops like you or not. And courage also means believing in something despite the fact that it’s not popular, and could get you attacked by both people on the right and on the left alike.
It looks more and more like people are going to be arrested at OccupyVancouver. While the injunction has been delayed by a week, it’s definitely coming and while the lawyers defending OccupyVancouver are doing a good job, it’s going to be tough for them to defend against the injunction, and more legal support on that front is needed. Also, anyone who actually helps form a human chain to defend the camp has my respect, and anyone who criticizes the very personal decision of engaging in civil disobedience as stupid or violent isn’t worth my time.
Furthermore, the Black Bloc know damn well what they are doing is illegal, that’s why they wear black. They know that they could be caught, beaten, arrested, and vilified by the other activists, but they choose to be identifiable, to take the heat and the brunt of the police response so that others don’t have to. I don’t know if the reader has done any Non Violent Direct Action training (mainstream groups such as Greenpeace and others offer this), or has been hit by the police or even has been in a fight, but Pain Compliance HURTS! Police Batons are designed to hurt people! Less Lethal Weapons aren’t a picnic, and the police know this. The fact is that anyone who puts themselves in harms way for their cause, regardless of whether or not they damaged property, has my respect. While I don’t think smashing windows works as a tactic anymore, I do think that the Black Bloc still serves a vital role in a protest as the front line for when the police start to get violent. As we have seen in many other instances, the police get away with abuse because they have the monopoly of force, and all the “experts” on the use of force are all former Police and Military officers.
I can easily talk about the failures of OccupyVancouver to provide a child-friendly space by not making a clear path to the kid zone for those with strollers, and the fact that once again radical parents have been sidelined, or the fact that there’s a feeling of some people that those who do nothing and sit behind a keyboard seem to have more knowledge than those who are actually on the ground occupying the space, but now is not the time. Everyone who can go down there and support OccupyVancouver should support it. People should put aside their petty bullshit, and listen. If someone is pissed because of your past, be prepared to explain it. If someone calls you a CSIS mole, disregard the snitch-jacketing for now and make a note for later. If nobody is breaking the law outside of Civil Disobedience, there’s no reason to be concerned. There’s plenty of time to get even with people later, right now it’s important to have a show of unity. I know this is a really hard thing to ask the Vancouver left, since there are very few places where infighting is as vicious, but it’s really important.
Note: I have never used Black Bloc tactics myself, because the police fear my involvement in actions far more if I don’t hide my identity (cue scary hacker bullshit). That being said, I do support anonymity online and offline based on principle. I also believe in Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association, and trying to get rid of the black bloc violates all three of these freedoms.</em>