Ideas Working Group Discussion on Diversity of Tactics 3/7/2012
Attendance grew from 4--12 people during the course of the meeting. It appeared that someone texted an affinity group who arrived at the same time suddenly, and had similar opinions.
Statement of Diversity of Tactics
We began with a discussion of Occupy Boston's Statement of Diversity of Tactics, which was approved by the General Assembly on Oct. 7th, 2011. This statement appears on the Direct Action Working Group's wiki page.
Statement of Diversity of Tactics
Tonight (7 October 2011), the Direct Action group (in charge of planning marches and other protest actions) presented the following "Statement of Diversity of Tactics" as a proposal to the General Assembly (GA). The following statement was passed to ensure the autonomy of working groups and the cohesion of the entire community.
Our solidarity will be based on respect for diversity of tactics and plans of other groups. As individuals and groups we are committed to treating each other as allies in the struggle.
The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space to protect the autonomy and safety of the movement.
We realize that our detractors will work to divide us by inflaming and magnifying our tactical, strategic, personal and political disagreements. Therefore, any debates or criticisms must stay inside the movement to avoid any public or media denunciations of fellow activists or events.
We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others.
The above statement fully agrees with the Occupy Boston Internal Solidarity Statement, opposing all forms of oppression.
General thoughts: it's a strong statement of solidarity; it allows different groups to act independently without placing restrictions on how they can act. The third paragraph is key: a separation of time and space means that you don't use tactics that take advantage of people who wouldn't otherwise use them. At the meeting, there was a sentiment that diversity of tactics should be distinguishable from provocateurism, and that diversity of tactics shouldn't avoid accountability.
Separation of time and space means that individuals are obligated to step out if a group begins to plan actions that those individuals are not comfortable with.
Some raised objection to violent tactics, with the beliefs that such tactics discredit the movement, and that violence and recruitment are mutually exclusive. On the other hand, some believe that tensions within our society may eventually make violence inevitable, and we should be prepared for that possibility.
The Diversity of tactics statement doesn't address structural violence, or institutions that systemically cause people harm.
We can use power analysis to guide our choice of tactics. For a given tactic, will the outcome give power to me, or to my opponent?
Violent tactics tend to exclude people of color; people of color face greater risk of (police) retaliation. If Occupy as a movement embraces, tolerates, or encourages violence and/or property destruction, then a lot of people (most notably people of color) will be hesitant to have anything to do with the moment. We need to divorce ourselves from such actions. The "time and space" statement implies that people who want to engage in these actions need to do so far away from the Occupy banner.
On Feb 20th, the People of Color Working group (et al) organized an action for the National Occupy Day for Prisoners. Along with organizing the event, they wrote an Action agreement, which appears at http://www.occupyboston.org/2012/02/17/monday-feb-20-national-occupy-day-prisoners/. The action agreement asks participants to abide by a code of conduct. We could use this approach, and develop action agreements for other demonstrations.
Draft Proposal on Property Destruction
We discussed a draft proposal called "Amended Proposal for guiding Principles on Property destruction". This draft was written by one of the meeting attendees, and based on a proposal that was blocked at GA. The text of this draft (which has not been brought to the GA) appears below.
As a group, the Occupy movement has embraced the tactic of "Occupation" -- which we define as "the non-violent holding of sites, to express our dissent from the undemocratic, inegalitarian forces with American society, and to contest inequitable ownership and control of property" -- on behalf of the 99% and the human rights of all people. We seek a society that prioritizes human over property rights. Nevertheless, we respect "property" insofar as it is the product of human labor and is needed for human survival.
Occupy (Boston) as a group does not impose ideological uniformity on its members. But Occupy (Boston) as a group does not endorse or aid in the intentional destruction of property as a protest tactic. We do, however, accept:
- reasonable action necessary to self-defense
- unintentional destruction of property in the course of protest
- actions made necessary by constraints on our self-expression
- actions with an expressive and symbolic rather than destructive intent
- destruction incidental to the act of Occupation
In general, people felt that there were good qualities in this proposal, but also a shortcomings. For example, several people felt that the third point was too open-ended; it allows people to do just about anything.
Several attendees believed that Occupy Boston needs to spend more time building a shared sense of values -- we should say what we stand for, and not what we stand against.
There is another aspect to property destruction: there may be times when we have to choose between people and property. In that context, people are more important.
Draft Proposal on Declaration of Principles and Goals
Another participant read a draft proposal on "Declaration of Principles and Goals" (again, not a proposal that's been brought to GA). I don't have the verbatim text of this document, but I'll summarize some points below:
- The needs of all must come before the profits of a few
- We must resist outdated authoritarian systems
- The use of force against protesters shows that our society as forgotten the value of free speech
- We want a society where no one profits from the control of others
- We seek to bring an end to structural violence
- People assume the worst when you go beyond the realm of non-violence.
Like the other draft, participants felt that this proposal had many positive qualities, but also had room for improvement.
Open Discussion on Tactics
The last portion of the meeting was an open stack discussion on tactics.
Before making policies on tactics, you should analyze how they'll play out with a few examples. Let's take a hypothetical example and analyze it: a group of environmental activists want to stage a sit in at a coal-fired electric plant. The plant is surrounded by a fence, and the activists will have to cut a hole through the fence in order to carry out their sit-in. Cutting through the fence is destruction of property, and probably causes as much monetary damage as throwing a rock through a window. Given these two instances of property destruction -- cutting a hole in a fence, and throwing a rock through a window -- is one necessarily worse then the other? Would you support one over the other?
Action agreements have positive qualities. They set expectations about what will happen at an action. If things get out of hand, an action plan can provide credible deniability.
At several points, we discussed the subject of "crazies" -- people who might undermine our movement by performing a very violent act in the name of Occupy. We haven't figured out how to get the crazies out of society, so how can we expect to keep them out of the Occupy Movement? As a movement, we need social structures, and we need to have respect for one another.
We want non-violent protest to succeed. This could become an actual proposal.
Animal rights and environmental activists have been known to engage in property destruction. They're people who've been protesting for years and years; they get tired of feeling like their not being heard, and then they snap.
The discussion moved on to the history of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, labor movements, and the IWW. We have a couple of people who really know their labor history, and it's fascinating stuff.
The labor movement -- the folks who brought us the weekend -- is an important part of American history. Some labor protests were very peaceful; others were not so peaceful.
To make consensus work better, we need to get better on having dialogs. Some of the things we've said tonight could easily become proposals that are brought before GA. However, we're a long way from doing that. First, we should figure out who (people or groups) might object, and then seek their input. In other words, we need to learn more about each others needs and concerns regarding diversity of tactics.
Point of information: depending on how you define "property", the Occupy Movement has already destroyed a lot of it. Consider the Shut Down the Ports campaign; we succeeded in shutting down several West coast shipping ports. One of these ports was owned by Goldman-Sachs, and shutting it down caused Goldman Sachs to lose money. If money is property, then shutting down the ports destroyed Goldman Sachs property.
"Comrade" is a very important term. It's who has your back, and who you can trust.
We'll continue to have this conversation. Although it would be nice to bring a proposal to GA, we need to focus on getting more input (and maybe even a lot more input) first. The next ideas WG meeting is in two weeks (March 21st). Between now and then, let's try to find some more people to bring into the conversation. This includes bringing new people to the next meeting, and engaging in one-on-one conversations.
We will also try to write up a list of general statements about diversity of tactics, so that we have something concrete to discuss. We can use https://pad.riseup.net to put this list together.