Statement from PLOC: Militancy for Liberation

photo by Kendall

by the Strategy & Vision Cluster of the Portland Liberation Organizing Council

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Introduction

On May Day 2012, the Black Working Group and the Portland Liberation Organizing Council helped Alicia Jackson liberate her house.  Jackson faced threats from the banks and self-evicted in August of 2011.  Ongoing community organizing, going back as far as October, developed the context to create the potential for this action to be a success.  With support from radical organizers and community members Jackson moved back in as part of a mass community action and remains in her home.  This action was a powerful and inspiring demonstration of the power of community based direct action to reclaim land and community resources.

The narrative of the action was one of liberatory anti-capitalist alternatives rooted in the concrete needs of working class people.  The relationship between the Black Working Group and PLOC is a dynamic model of multiracial collaboration based in a common commitment to fighting white supremacy and capitalism.  The action itself was a militant direct action that claimed control over a home and prepared to defend it.

The document below is our attempt to articulate our thinking behind the militancy we demonstrated on May Day and to engage in ongoing strategic debates within our movements.

Militancy for Liberation

The debate within radical organizing and activist circles regarding the question of “diversity of tactics” versus nonviolence is one in which there remains a strong polarization of opinion. Recent events in the Occupy movement have raised complex and vitally important questions about what forms of engagement are considered acceptable and strategic in the fight for social justice and freedom. Certain opinions emphasize a diversity of tactics and stress the legitimacy of various forms of militancy, including property destruction (economic sabotage) and street fighting (physical self defense). Other opinions emphasize a strict adherence to nonviolence for strategic reasons such as maintaining collective safety, avoiding alienating potential allies and to maintain the moral high ground. Most often, this form of reductionist debate has not been particularly illuminating or generative for momentum or capacity building. In particular, when the debate devolves into accusations or allegations born of stereotypical profiling, we collectively lose the ability to cultivate and strengthen authentic solidarity amongst a spectrum of willing participants based on a shared commitment to confronting the systems of oppression.

This is our attempt to offer an intervention in the ongoing polarized debate by raising questions regarding: how we organize our communities into a movement capable of the difficult and dangerous work of winning our freedom. We believe this is one way in which to encourage ensuing conversations that necessarily shift from the frame of debating tactics to the frame of inter-connecting strategies for community liberation.

  1. What is actually required for our society to deeply transform? If we want a free society in which we determine our own lives, with others, then this surely will require the destruction of capitalism, and the abolition of white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy. Realistically, what can lead to that outcome? Our strategy and tactics are based in seeking to answer that question. We are experimenting, while learning from the past, as well as from our own and others current experiences.
  2. We’ve seen over and over that the rulers of this society, those who profit from our pain, are afraid of and adamantly resistant to this kind of deep change. This system wages war on life. The elite have been fighting a war against those of us who want a different world since the beginning. Their war on us takes different forms and occurs with differing layers of visibility. We do not seek to convince those in power to give us freedom. We seek to take it. How?
  3. Peoples’ movements have generally included a variety of tactics in the context of their struggles. We look to our ancestors for inspirations of how to collectivize power and how to express that collectivized power: from the anti-enclosure uprisings in the Middle Ages of Europe, to the Irish anti-colonial movement against the British occupation, to the Azanian (South African) anti-apartheid struggle, to the labor wars throughout U.S.history, to the Black Freedom Struggle against Jim Crow racism. All of these movements have used tactics ranging from legal petitioning to armed warfare. How can we apply lessons from these struggles, recognizing the similarities and differences about our own time and place? How do assert our own and others’ legitimacy of self-determination in determining the means by which we struggle for our liberation? We ourselves are our own liberators
  4. What is “militancy”? For us, militants recognize that the rulers of this society are fighting a war against us and choose to respond wisely and creatively with a strategy to not submit to ongoing warfare, but also to end it. Being militant, for us, means keeping all of our options open, and our intentions to strategically confront the systems of power in the forefront. It means recognizing that people are getting hurt already, and that sometimes we have to make hard choices with real risks in all directions. It has been said that “freedom isn’t free”. There is a cost for freedom and there are risks to fighting for liberation. Asking and learning when to advance and fight, when to retreat and regroup, when to choose life and when to risk death, are fundamental questions that are embedded in the context of the conversation about militancy.
  5. Who are “militants”? We think it’s important for all kinds of people struggling for the world we want, to be thinking, acting, and relating in the context of a war we seek to survive and to end. What does it mean for working class people of all professions to be militants? How do neighbors and communities of all kinds take power and express agency in their home places, and defend them against repossession and possible armed assault? How do conscious, trained, organized radicals support a broad-based, widespread movement that makes revolution a living possibility everyone can feel in their gut? This is our challenge as we develop tactics and strategies that create more opportunities for all kinds of oppressed people to break with “legality”, challenge existing power structures and property relations, and fight for our freedom.
  6. Engaging in militancy, whether acting against property or the agents of oppression, involves risk. Refusing to fight also involves risk. How do those risks balance out: for ourselves, for others, for all life in this world? While we assert our and others legitimacy in fighting back, we also seek to encourage the development of the skills that allow us to do so as wisely and securely as possible. How can we build more and better capacity to undermine the rulers’ ability to oppress, repress, and suppress? How can we fight in ways that minimize harm and danger to ourselves, our allies, and our strategic goals?
  7. Bringing militancy into our social movements changes us. It’s a lens or an attitude, that can help us fight the war better. But the war can get inside us, take us over. We can lose perspective on the culture this revolution is fighting for; a culture of participation, humility, compassion and of loving relationships. How can we defend our communities and movement with all tools necessary, without letting violence inside of movement debates, or by losing our perspective on how people may get hurt? There are real tensions here that we seek to address with more than a stridently dogmatic defense of revolutionary violence or a retreat to the moral blinders of purist pacifism.
  8. How can our militancy support and develop the leadership of women, queer and trans comrades in building a fighting movement? Our militancy is feminist, because confrontation has so often been interpreted as a realm of male domination and the re-creation of oppressive gender relationsHow can we intentionally create and implement pathways of strategic confrontation in ways that undermine rather than reinforce that tendency? We draw on the traditions of women’s revolutionary action from Harriet Tubman to Assata Shakur. Feminist understandings and practices create a context in which to ask: what forms of action and resistance best embody our values of participation, collective care and transformation?
  9. Life is inherently valuable. Our respect for life asks us to use all means we can to end this murderous system. It also asks that we struggle in humane ways that amplify life. Embracing this tension is at the center of our militancy.

  12 comments for “Statement from PLOC: Militancy for Liberation

  1. Worthless
    May 24, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    *sigh*

    If we frame it as a fight, then we lose. The 1% will always outspend, outspin, and outfight us. More, if we actually wanted Occupy to succeed, then we need to capture the hearts and minds of the soccer moms from Gresham, the grandparents from Troutdale. When we go out and destroy property and engage with the police, those are exactly the people we lose. When we are seen on the TV lined up against the police, what do you think they think? That we are fighting for their rights? When we ‘take’ a bridge, do they think that it’s a great victory declaring the people’s streets? Or do they think ‘now I have to go all the way to the other bridge to pick up Little Johnny in a half-hour.

    Militancy is the path to defeat. It undermines our support, alienates us from the public, and lets the 1% control us. We must be smarter then this if we want Occupy to come off life support.

    • Melanie Brown
      May 24, 2012 at 10:35 PM

      I agree. I am so tired of these “Occupy Portland” movements. If they were out working and contributing to society and not being brainwashed by a few people this wouldn’t even make the news. All people need to do is before they sign any legal document, go home and read it. Take it to an attorney if necessary. Financial literacy is something that needs to be done not marching and taking homes back illegally. The person that will be hurt and embarrassed is the former homeowner. She seems to be very confused in all of the photos I have seen. I wonder if she is even aware of the severity of these actions and how much trouble is brewing ahead.****If she is the rightful owner why didn’t she just wait until the courts decide what to do? If she had proof an attorney, then this could have been handled legally and with no embarrassment. She had already been out of the home for at least 2 yrs. None of this makes any sense. It is just a publicity stunt for the organizers.

    • Chris
      May 26, 2012 at 3:06 PM

      I don’t think the American public has a problem with militancy. What they have a problem with is danger and chaos. Propaganda, not militancy, is what “undermines our support, alienates us from the public, and lets the 1% control us”; it presents the police as safe and predictable, while casting Occupiers as nihilistic vandals or careless scofflaws.

      It is critical to remember that typical Americans lack political and historical awareness. They don’t spend a lot of time reading or thinking about things like human rights, the basis and ethics of governance, or the systems of power that have been created to manipulate us. When we march in the street and claim it to be “our street”, we know that it is because sovereignty resides in the people, property is subordinate to a social contract, and so forth – but they might see it as just a bunch of weirdos breaking the law and holding up traffic. And when they see police line up against protesters, all they see is a street fight. They simply don’t have the intellectual context within which to frame Occupy, and so it gets framed by the media instead.

      And so what Occupy needs, the same thing the Left has needed for decades, is more and better messaging: what it’s doing, why it’s doing it, why it has to be done this way instead of by voting or writing letters or just getting a better job, whatever. And this goes back to what a lot of Occupiers were saying early on, that what Occupy needs to do is raise consciousness and educate, because revolution begins in the mind.

      But to say that militancy “undermines our support, alienates us from the public, and lets the 1% control us” – no. Propaganda and ignorance are what do that.

  2. Tim
    May 24, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    ” We believe this is one way in which to encourage ensuing conversations that necessarily shift from the frame of debating tactics to the frame of inter-connecting strategies for community liberation.”

    Sounds like “shifting” this debate is code for ruling in for of violence …. and then “inter-connecting” it.

    You put the whole discussion in terms of “war”. Talk about reductionism. No surprise that beneath your veil of “feminist” “humane” (etc) rhetoric you end up lobbying to destroy things and hurt/kill people.

    I reject your narrative as calmly, as carefully and as vehemently as I reject that of patriarchy, that of racism, that of Cheney and Dimon and Murdoch and Obama.

    When your only intellectual framework is the hammer of war, of course whatever stands between you and your goal begins to resemble a soul-less object worthy of nothing but pounding. War is a model which we would in my opinion do well to leave behind. There are other ways to conceive of this struggle.

    And the over-riding point: Occupy operates by consensus. Has your local GA agreed by consensus to physical violence against people or things? Unless and until the people of the GA so consent, every act of physical violence in the vicinity of an Occupy action or in the name of Occupy (expressed or implied), whether by the black-clad paramilitaries with badges or by the black-clad paramilitaries with bandanas, is an act of violence against the Occupy movement. Full stop.

    I honor your right to carry on the discussion, non-violently.

    • credible source
      May 25, 2012 at 12:39 AM

      Portland Liberation Organizing Council (PLOC) is not part of Occupy Portland. It is a separate grouping specifically working from an anti-capitalist, anti-white supremacy and feminist perspective. We have been focusing on the foreclosure crisis and community reclamation of land and resources. Therefore, we don’t go through Occupy GA’s, we have separate areas of focus.

      We have organized one action and there was zero violence. Had the police come and brought violence, we would not have sat back and let ourselves simply be arrested. That doesn’t mean we would have destroyed property or had an armed showdown with the cops. That wouldn’t make sense in this scenario. The purpose of writing our thoughts on militancy is not to promote violence per se, but to acknowledge that, whether we like it or not, we are in struggle against systems of oppression, that we were born into this and at this point in time, we can’t be silent. Silence keeps us subordinated. Speaking out is not violence and should not be considered as such. Neither should any and all actions, events, marches, rallies or other political work ever be considered “in the Occupy vicinity” unless it is expressly so.

      Thank you Kendall for your perspective and reading of this piece. We intended to promote discussion, questions and creative ways to challenge the current power structures and you bring up a lot of good points.

    • Chris
      May 26, 2012 at 7:00 PM

      Actually, Occupy operates autonomously first and foremost. GA is a useful tool for seeking consensus *from those currently present*, but it has no real governing or representative authority – despite some people’s evident belief to the contrary. The only reason to seek GA consensus on any statement or proposal is to either (a) use it as a forum to expose more Occupiers to the idea and promote discussion, or (b) influence those Occupiers who have personally extended the GA such authority by their consent.

      Furthermore, the notion that one can do violence to Occupy by taking violent action “in the vicinity of an Occupy action” (whatever that means – how large is a “vicinity” in space and time?) “or in the name of Occupy”, regardless of the nature, intent, or result of such action, presumes that someone has exclusive property in the Occupy name (brand?) and in Occupy events – which is not only plainly false but conceptually impossible as there is no person or group to which that property could belong. Like it or not, Occupy is unownable and ungovernable by design. (Blame those pesky anarchists.)

      About the most you could say is that Occupy started with nonviolence, and it would be courteous if people would respect that. But discourtesy is not itself violence.

  3. Kendall
    May 24, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    I wish everyone who argues for non-violence would read this in the spirit of discovering common ground. There is much here that can dissolve the ideological barriers between us. This article asks us to open our minds, our hearts, our ways of understanding.

    I am a deep pacifist, a Buddhist vegetarian pacifist. I don’t even step on ants or kill mosquitoes if I can help it, and although I haven’t been tested, I don’t think I would kill in self-defense. I am as non-violent as a person can be. But I live in a violent world. Racism is violent. Economic injustice is violent. Planetary pollution is violent. Weapons of mass destruction, in the hands of any government, including our own, are violent. Attacks on unarmed people by police in riot gear are violent.

    One form of violence is insisting that my way is the one, the true, the only way and that others have to believe as I believe and do what I say. Non-violence, for me, means I don’t impose the answers that work for me, are moral and right for me, on others.

    What we have here is an opening, an invitation to conversation, a series of questions about how to respond to violence that already exists. This is not a declaration of war but a series of questions about how to deal with violence which the authors perceive as “war.” Here is what I want my (non-violent) kind to think about, more deeply and creatively than we ever have before:

    “What is actually required for our society deeply to transform?”

    “How do conscious, trained, organized radicals support a broad-based, widespread movement that makes revolution a living possibility everyone can feel in their gut?”

    These are QUESTIONS. Who among us has definitive answers? If old hippie activists like me had the answers, wouldn’t we have neutralized the violence already, given that we have been fighting injustice all our lives?

    This article does not advocate breaking anything or killing anybody. It asks us to think deeply and creatively. These questions don’t ask me to be violent; they invite me to explore the possibility that diversity of tactics might include my standing in solidarity with some people doing some things that I wouldn’t do. Look again at this, please: “How can we build more and better capacity to undermine the rulers’ ability to oppress, repress, and suppress? How can we fight in ways that minimize harm and danger to ourselves, our allies, and our strategic goals?”

    I’m grateful for the questions, for the courage of those who ask them, and for the possibility that we can all work together, each finding our own way to resist what oppresses us.

    • Hard Luck
      May 24, 2012 at 3:37 PM

      Thank you. This is very thoughtful.

  4. chops
    May 25, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, I found it helpfull, and insperational, it got me to think, and not that im asleep, but I often wonder how to become more militant, but still hold on to the love in my heart, the smile on my face, and my general excitement about people and all the amazing ways that they can be (whether I understand them or not). how to have a more positive relationship, not just with radical thinkers but with everyone, regardless of their oppinions, how to be militant in my activism, and still radiate love in my day to day activities and even under harsh situations where wrong is being done, i do belive that militancy and direct action can be done from a place of love.
    anyways maybe im silly but thanks for the thoughfull words

  5. r. willis
    May 30, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    violence will never be a path to a nonviolent, just society. those who are willing to use violence will dominate those who are not (just as in the present conversation, actually).

    the existing structure requires the acquiescence of those who are being exploited. the path to a different future requires that we withdraw from that acquiescence and begin to live out the alternative. if small communities grow their own food and share services among themselves, and network with other such communities, the capitalist economy will collapse on its own without the “necessity” of taking up arms.

  6. Maurerguy
    June 6, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    Thanks for your attempt. I’m not sure how far you got, but at least you defined the space. One thing we tend to forget is that pacifism is quite rare in our species and in the real world. It is certainly not the default.

    That doesn’t mean that violence is “right,” but it does mean it’s normal. For most folks, it’s on the spectrum of acceptable responses, but at one extreme end. And of course, violence is only one part of the questions you raise. Thanks also to Kendall above, for helping to break through towards the space we need to reach.

    Thank you for your practice, and thank you for what you have tried to do with theory.

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