Diverse Ideologies Fuel Diverse Tactics

photo by Paul

by Ahjami Umi

A wise man in Africa once told me that, contrary to popular opinion, everyone functions based on an ideology. He said that even the simple act of using the bathroom is a political action that requires an underlying thought process. If you don’t believe that, try finding a welcoming bathroom when you’re poor and homeless.

So we should start by acknowledging that the discussion around diversity of tactics is misguided. The real discussion is the reality that there are diverse ideologies within the Occupy movement. The very fact that it’s a movement and not a political party confirms this. Movements are about a broad spectrum of people who come together to achieve broad social justice objectives. It’s quite possible that Occupy, like many historical movements, may develop into splits and/or splinter groups as people develop ideological cohesiveness, commitment, and particular direction, but that’s a separate discussion. For now it’s important to recognize that this movement has people within it who view American society as “broken” and repairable while there are other people who view this society as an empire that never has, and never will, serve the interests of the masses of people on the planet. For the former group, the question is how to restore integrity to the system and put working people in the position to use the system to provide resources for forward progress. For the latter group it’s about winning the hearts and minds of the masses of people over to the belief that only a completely new type of system e.g. scientific socialism, or the altruism represented through anarchist beliefs, can provide working people the resources they need. Still, although these ideological tendencies–which I’ll label reformism for the former group and revolution for the latter–seem opposed to each other, the challenge for Occupy activists is to avoid falling into the “us and them” trap being constantly imposed on us from capitalist institutions such as the “mainstream” media. There are lessons in history about this issue from which we may learn. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the capitalist media, as well as many prominent individuals and organizations such as Jackie Robinson (the first Black baseball player), consistently played up the differences between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. King was inaccurately portrayed as a pacifist who would let you beat him senseless before he defended himself. Malcolm was inaccurately portrayed as a violent man whose only objective was revenge against White society. These erroneous depictions were presented so consistently that many of you, whether you know it or not, still believe some of those premises about each man’s ideas today. Although Dr. King relied heavily on the capitalist media to inform him about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, it was ironically Malcolm himself who exposed the capitalist strategy by pointing out in 1964 that he and Dr. King were not opposed to one another. Instead, he argued that they both believed in freedom. “We just have different ways of going at achieving it!”

There lies a critical lesson for Occupy to study. When this movement first started the focus was on getting together and speaking out. This has been done through the encampments, protest marches, rallies, and other creative events that have come to define Occupy. Now we are moving into the next natural stage of development. People are starting to think beyond just expressing outrage at capitalist exploitation and oppression. Now people are wondering what the alternatives are. As a result, these ideological differences which were much less visible before are much sharper now.

There is much we can do to address this situation. For those who consider yourselves revolutionaries, this means that you are (hopefully) searching for ways to explain to people why revolution is the only solution and why the reason so many more people are being impacted by economic woes is simply because capitalism, which has always been exploitative and oppressive to most of the planet, is now in a state of decline and is therefore only able to provide sustainability to a constantly shrinking segment of the society. For revolutionaries, this is the period in which we must work to win people over to our objectives. We do this by working with people, winning their trust, and convincing them of the merits of our ideological objectives of uncompromising change. This means developing ways to communicate effectively with people because if we don’t do that, they won’t hear us and if they don’t hear us they won’t understand what it is we are fighting for. If they don’t understand what we are fighting for, they will believe the lies the capitalist media tells them about us. We have our work cut out for us, and we can’t circumvent that by thinking there are short cuts like breaking windows. Sure, we’re angry, and we have a right to be pissed, but there are much more productive methods to properly channel that anger. Revolutions can’t happen without revolutionaries and revolutionaries are only created through revolutionary political education campaigns and actions. These campaigns create the climate for revolutionary change. We use these campaigns to educate people to the benefits of revolutionary development. We show people basic things, the massive switch from banks to credit unions is a prime example of how logical socialism is, since credit unions are non-profit financial co-ops based on the socialist model. We show them that the consensus model is a socialist/anarchist model and a much more democratic model than is being offered in the capitalist system. This is the difficult day-to-day work that revolutionaries must commit to engaging in. If we do this work, we will begin to see the rising level of consciousness that will create the political milieu for revolutionary change. If we don’t do the work, we will certainly instead succumb to frustration and anger which will permit us to become willing participants in our alienation and subsequent criminalization by the power structure, so that even our own families see us as terrorists. We have to do this work and we have to reach out and embrace our non-revolutionary comrades and stop treating them like they are sell-outs. If you are a revolutionary, it’s your responsibility to convince people why they should support revolutionary change. If they don’t, you can’t be mad at them for not seeing things the way you do. That means you have a lot of work to do and you should welcome the opportunity, instead of sneering at people who are not in favor of revolution. If they think that way, don’t blame them; blame the capitalist system, or at least make sure you are looking in the mirror when you sneer.

As for those of you who are reform minded or don’t consider yourselves revolutionaries, the task for you is to avoid falling into the Malcolm versus Martin trap. Instead of viewing your revolutionary brothers and sisters through the lenses of the enemy, make the decision to truly embrace everyone in the movement. This doesn’t mean you have to compromise anything you believe it. What it does mean is you acknowledge that people have the right to be pissed and we all don’t start at the same point so no one can judge anyone and how they express their anger. Decide to be clever in analyzing these issues. When someone wants to make the issue about breaking windows, make it a point of expressing how you don’t believe in the tactic, but considering the oppression people are experiencing. Broken windows are a small price for banks to pay considering the murderous crimes they are getting away with. Then explain to them how the banks are raping society. Tell them how Wells Fargo is guilty of making billions through racist predatory lending practices that are so obvious that even the federal government is currently engaged in a class action suit against that bank. I guarantee you that will get the topic off of the $500.00 window. If you make the decision to embrace your revolutionary comrades, even if you don’t agree with them, then you reduce the marginalization and alienation they feel which contributes to their feelings of hopelessness e.g. acting out by breaking windows.

Finally, for all of us, we have to agree to begin dialogue honestly with each other at every opportunity and about every issue in this movement. We have to learn to always remember we are not each other’s enemy and there is uneven development as people understand things at different levels. If we can focus on doing these things it will certainly make our movement so much stronger while making us foolproof against police infiltration and disruption. This will make us unstoppable. What a novel concept. Anybody game?

  9 comments for “Diverse Ideologies Fuel Diverse Tactics

  1. Sarah
    March 11, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    I have begun to wonder if it is not time to put this issue of the black bloc to rest. The disrespect has been great on both sides. I know of a number of non-violent protesters who have left the movement due to the way they were treated by the radicals in the movement. Radicals say they have been thrown under the bus. If we as a movement, can not figure it out, why should we expect that people outside the movement are going to take us seriously??

    • rothstei
      March 11, 2012 at 6:29 PM

      Sarah, I think we are figuring it out. But like all difficult questions, it takes time, and discussion. I’ve seen the “diversity of tactics” issue come up so many times in the past 13 years since Seattle ’99, but I’ve never felt like we’ve made much progress until now. Through Occupy, we are finally finding the terms by which we can talk about this, and the tactics that we can agree on, and use together. I, for one, hope that we keep talking about this in Occupy. While some people have been alienated by the issue, many people have been able to finally find common ground by being party to the dialog. The mainstream media would like, perhaps, to declare the issue as “simple” or “cut and dry”, and expect everyone to go ahead and make a decision and stop talking about it. But I feel that in Occupy, we know that what we are told are simple issues are actually complicated, and rather than avoid such things, we like to wade in to the middle and get to work. I think if we can continue to make real progress on this issue, then those who have been alienated will see our success and come back.

    • May 25, 2012 at 5:39 PM

      It’s time we use our voice and stand firm to take back America! It has been going downhill for a long time now and we have had enoguh! No more games and playing with our lives and livelihood. No more sacrifices! It’s time for the pursuit of happiness, empathy for our fellow man, concern for our own local communities, working together and helping one another without giving up our rights! FREEDOM! 2 0

  2. StJason
    March 11, 2012 at 3:36 PM

    I think you have some false equivalency here. And I feel that if it were bank windows being smashed (as opposed to small, local businesses) that it would be far more defensible.
    The problem with using ‘diversity of tactics’ as an excuse is not with the ‘diversity’ part, it is the ‘tactics’ that is at issue.

    Let us say that, to make an example up out of whole cloth, there was a march to protest police violence. Let us further say that the marchers were a mixed group of ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘reformers’. Now, during the course of the march, the police showed up, there was tensions and whatnot. All to be expected. Let’s say that the police started pushing people. And people started pushing back. Despite the violence, no issues so far.
    Let’s say they used their bicycles to try and kettle the protest in, and that several of the protesters got the bikes away from the police, and threw them into the highway where a semi smashed them. I don’t think people would object.
    Let’s say that the police tried to do the same with a squad car, and during the incident, the window of the car was smashed. Again, I don’t think that it’s going to be much of an issue.
    Now, let’s say that the march went past a restaurant, and during a peaceful time in the march, the window was smashed. How is this advancing the tactic? Furthering the message of ‘no police violence’?

    I don’t think anyone is saying that there is only one tactic that we can use. Certainly, live actions, online presence, movement building, direct actions, public pressure, and political systems are all currently being used. As far as I know, nobody is calling for the end of the Facebook pages because they aren’t our tactics.

    Focusing our tactics only helps the movement, helps our message outside the movement, and helps everyone inside and out keep on topic. Randomly flailing about screaming ‘diversity of tactics’ does not.

  3. Jess E. Hadden
    March 11, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I used to live on 20th Street, up until recently. Some of the acts of vandalism against the 99% that occurred on February 6th happened right outside my old home. I did not see anything in the way of tactics that day. I just saw my old neighborhood under attack. I felt as if I had been lured to provide cover for acts of rage, by the promise of an anti-police brutality march. The “tactics” deployed were indistinguishable from a police setup, which raises the question of competency. The talk at the end of the day was controversial, divisive, and had nothing to do with police brutality.

    February 29th, on the other hand, was about tactics. Damned good tactics. And the tactics were strategic, and related to the message. The talk at the end of the day was neither protester nor police violence, but rather, ALEC. I was proud of what I saw on Feb 29. I was proud to be part of this movement.

    After Feb 6, some who supported those acts of destruction began to discuss the notion of seeking restrictions on Occupy media. By stark contrast, the people who pulled off the extremely competent tactics of Feb 29 specifically requested to be filmed — live and from multiple angles, in fact.

    I feel the use of the word “diversity” in this ongoing discussion is disingenuous. This is not an issue of diversity. It’s an issue of the ethics & efficacy of specific tactics. We all know that certain police tactics are wrong (not to mention counterproductive). In fact, rarely do I hear it said anymore that police are part of the 99% — after months of their violent tactics, we just don’t see them as being the same as us. And we all know that what we saw a handful of protesters do on Feb 6 would be wrong, if it was the police doing it.

    One can be in favor of black bloc tactics, and opposed to the acts on Feb 6th. From my vantage point, I believe this to be the majority opinion within Occupy Portland. The “black bloc vs. anti-black bloc” dichotomy is false. The “revolutionary vs. reformist” dichotomy is equally divisive, and I wonder if it is also false.

  4. Kendall
    March 11, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    I think your article is wise and good, and I especially like your appeal to revolutionists and reformists to respect each other, but I can’t find myself in that dichotomy. I am an aging revolutionary who, at the age of 66, has come to believe that the system is stronger than I realized, when i became a revolutionist in the 60s, and that to protect those who are alive NOW, it is necessary to engage in reformist tactics sometimes, because they have a breath of a chance of making a difference on the ground. I’m not saying revolution doesn’t have a chance, but having worked so hard for it, for so long, and having seen so little come of that, I am willing to straddle those camps, to be a revolutionist willing to engage in some reformism until those who want revolution reach the critical mass necessary. That hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s on the brink of happening. We who live on the fringes can’t tell what’s going on till the people really speak with a mass voice. I think there are revolutionists among us. I think there are reformists among us. But I think there are also many people like me, who dream of revolution and in the meanwhile are willing to work for bandaid reformist solutions because these small local changes may relieve some of the suffering that is happening right now, while big revolutionary dreams may do fuck all. We MUST change the whole system that creates this stupid economic inequality. But in the meanwhile, I’ll vote for Obama again. That doesn’t make me a reformer. The very word hurts me. Is there a word for me? I don’t know.

  5. March 11, 2012 at 7:08 PM

    Some of the responses indicate a misunderstanding about the intent and focus of this article. I couldn’t be less interested in the Black Bloc debate. The focus of this article is how revolutionary movements are formed within a movement that includes revolutionaries, nationalists, social reformers, those that aren’t sure, etc. My discussion isn’t at all about tactics. It’s about challenging those who claim to be revolutionaries to study, understand, and engage in genuinely revolutionary work. Since people in the U.S. don’t study revolution, even those who claim to be revolutionaries, the confusion isn’t surprising. In order to better understand my point, I would suggest people study the work of the Viet Minh Front in Vietnam or the Urban Solidarity movement in Cuba in the 50s, etc.

  6. john gardner
    March 12, 2012 at 5:49 AM

    I love occupy! The drama about reform vs. revolution doesn’t bother me. I wake up every morning and go through almost every major occupy website and, unless I attend a march, it’s all down hill from there. I love all the freaky occupiers, the piercings, the fashion, the ideologies, the homeless sages, the black block, the different sexual lifestyles, the drum circles, the bicycle brigade, the anonymous masks. I hope I never forget the beautiful image in my mind of the camp, before the raid, mulched in golden yew leaves. I love marching with you people, 1000 strong on F29 in the pouring rain. I love knowing that at this moment people are hacking into the websites of evil organizations, fighting foreclosures, moving money out of the bank, petitioning and emailing politicians, planning the Mayday activities. Yesterday, tens of thousands marched in Madison. Like Leonard Cohen said, “first we take Manhattan then we take Berlin.” My only complaint—the occupy coffee.

  7. Anonymous
    March 12, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    Credit unions are revolutionary? News to me. Point of fact, they’re not non-profit, they’re not for profit. I don’t suppose the fact that you’re a self-described executive banker and v.p. at a credit union has anything to do with the fact that you promote investing with credit unions as more revolutionary than say breaking windows? I don’t remember credit unions being part of North Vietnam or Cuba’s revolutionary programs. Then again, maybe authoritarian communist regimes aren’t the best folks to be taking lessons from?

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