Friday, July 01, 2011

After the G-20, Re-Thinking Turmoil


Metta Spencer
At a meeting tonight on bad policing at G20, I rudely noted that demonstration organizers also had duty to make all protesters pledge nonviolence. This was not received well. They said it was up to the cops to make people behave. I said it's up to all of us. Gandhi stopped all demonstrations for a year after protesters acted up. His satyagrahis had to be EXTREMELY disciplined. Everyone tonight considered it impossible to keep order.

Janet Vickers and CF like this.

Robin Collins
Good for you.

Metta Spencer
Hi, Robin. Of course, I wasn't defending the crimes of the police, but it's a matter of doing more than blaming them.

Robin Collins
We should remember that the initial criticism was of the cops in the first day(s) for letting people run around doing silly (destructive) things; then the police were brought in and apparently were instructed to respond with a heavy hand. Isn't there something in-between?

Metta Spencer
Good question. The speaker tonight was Peter Rosenthal, the lawyer for Jaggi Singh in this case. Of course there is plenty of room to criticize the cops but we can't make them responsible for keeping everyone from breaking the law. Actually, I didn't speak up much until the end because I didn't go to the G20 marches and don't know enough about them.

CF
Good for you. The peace movement and anti-globalist movements have lost all crediblity precisely because its members refuse to renounce the use or advocacy or condoning of violence. The appalling moral slide of the human rights movement in the last 10 years is to blame as well, with its indefensible notion of "defensive jihad" and support of various victims who advocate warfare and excuse terrorism. The flotilla movement has also been provocative and knowingly inciting violence to make a point. The old movement concept of "direct action" versus "non-direct action" has been utterly eroded. You don't have to have gone to the G20 marches to see the reckless disregard for non-violence principles and the cynical indifference to the problem of violence in general -- I had many Twitter debates with Canadian radicals at that time.

Andrew Bartholomew Chaplin
I have special admiration for real anarchists: nothing is more difficult. If you are a true anarchist you govern yourself and expect to others to do the same. If people govern themselves, there is nothing to worry about. Hope isn't just a town in British Columbia.

Wodek Szemberg
The truth not addressed is that—as any experienced and dedicated demonstrator knows—no demonstration has ever been successful unless it has been violently broken up by the police or it has managed to undermine public order in some manner. I wasn't there but I just have a sneaking feeling that many of the people who were wrongly arrested, have and will retell the story of their arrests at many dinner parties. And will wear the memory of their participation in the G20 demonstrations as a badge of honor.

Metta Spencer
I have to wonder what you mean by "successful," Wodek. Would you say the G20 demonstrations were successful? Or that Gandhi's demonstrations were unsuccessful? What do you suppose people are trying to achieve by demonstrating? Even Rosenthal agreed that the whole reputability of the G20 demonstration was blackened by the Black Bloc. I don't think the demonstrators required for their own "success" that the G20 disband or change its policies that weekend, so I'm not sure what success is to them either, but surely I don't know what you mean by it.

And in a sense I agree with Andrew. What I was calling on people to do was to monitor each other and manage the civility of our own activities without having to be controlled by the police. You could see that as anarchism, though surely the history of anarchism is dominated mainly by violence. Rosenthal says that Jaggi Singh is an anarchist, which explains why he has acquired several criminal convictions, I guess.

Robin Collins
I doubt much was achieved by the group of violent demonstrators -- what was their objective? It wasn't in revolt against a Nazi state. Was it to "prove” the state was violent by its response to their own provocations? Nobody believes that story, even when the police overdid it. There is more ego in the bandana boys than politics, methinks.

Metta Spencer
Yes. I think probably what Wodek means by "success" is getting media coverage. If that is the only name of the game, then he is right — but only because the media only cover shocking things. If that is success, then it comes at a terrible price — that the demonstrators put moral principles aside in order to get attention. That's not what I want to accomplish with a protest movement.

Francisco J. Wulff
I strongly agree with CF above. I don´t believe in going to the police and picking a fight as a form of protest, or burning cars in the street or destroying private property. What is the substance of such actions? How does that contribute to building a better society? Same with these fleets of "humanitarian assistance" going off to Gaza, hoping to be "attacked" by the Israelis. Is that the best we can do to make the points of humanitarian causes???

Anyway, thank you, Metta Spencer, for bringing up this issue, which has been bothering me for a while. I have not yet seen anybody else arguing your point, which is a shame.

Diane Katz
Couldn't agree with you more, Francisco.

Metta Spencer
Actually, I see the flotilla as a truly nonviolent activity. I know people who are on it, and they are trying to bring things into Gaza such as wheelchairs. I do not believe they are trying to provoke the Israelis into attacking them, and if they are attacked, the people I know certainly will not respond with violence or destructive behavior at all. So I see them as truly Gandhian in their mission.

Diane Katz
If the flotilla movement really had humanitarian assistance at its heart, rather than just making a political statement, they would be sending aid to Benghazi instead. But the sad fact is violence works, at least as far as getting attention goes. If there is a quiet, peaceful demonstration, the media aren't interested. They thrive on confrontation. Quite depressing, actually.

Metta Spencer
I didn't say they weren't trying to make a political statement. I think they ARE. But when injustice is going on, then a peaceful demonstration as a political statement is a good thing. That is not the same thing as attacking anyone or inviting attack. A couple of weeks ago at an arms bazaar in Ottawa my friends lay down on the pavement at the gate to try to prevent traffic going in. The police there were friendly and arrested no one. That's the way a demonstration ought to go. And in my opinion it is entirely justified. Money spent on weapons in the world would EASILY meet all the millennium development goals if diverted to civilized, humanitarian purposes.

Francisco J. Wulff
I'm sorry Metta, but I think that they are either very naive or worse. There is an open way to deliver real assistance to Gaza without this drama, but it has to go through Israeli checks (or through Egypt, which apparently is quite an open border now). What Israel won't allow is a direct, uncontrolled supply, because they fear it would be used to smuggle weapons. Although the Egyptian situation makes this whole thing a moot point, I can understand the Israeli concerns. And I don't understand why decent humanitarians would not be willing to go through a checkpoint.

Metta Spencer
Sorry, Franicisco, but that's not accurate. Not everything the Gazans need is allowed in, even at checkpoints. Cement, for example. Previous deliveries of wheelchairs have still not reached their destination, but are impounded somewhere unknown. The ocean is not the property of Israel and it is illegal for anyone to blockade Gaza. I think if you look more deeply into the true circumstances, you will conclude that Israel is perpetrating far more injustice on the Palestinians than vice versa. Because of that, I am supporting the flotilla myself.

Diane Katz
There was only one boat where there was violence, where there were the Turkish militants. I found out later that Ivan's cousin’s boyfriend was the first attacked, beaten, and thrown overboard. (He was in the IDF.) He had multiple fractures and spent several months in hospital and rehab. Why? Anyway, Israel said repeatedly that if the flotilla docks in israel, they will inspect the cargo and then send it straight to Gaza. I don't have a problem with the flotilla, if it's nonviolent, even if I don't agree with the necessity if it.

Francisco J. Wulff
I think the peace movement loses credibility when activists forget basic common sense. Lying down in an Ottawa street to protest an arms bazaar is great; attacking police officers at the G20 and spray-painting ther helmets and visors is stupid. Delivering humanitarian assistance in conflict areas is an act of great courage and self-sacrifice; choosing the most dangerous way just to make a debatable political point does not seem like a good idea.

Metta Spencer

I believe in civil disobedience as a political action when it involves disobeying an unjust law or custom. As Gandhi said, "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good."

Diane Katz
With your recent demonstration, I think that's great. Wouldn't it be great if nonviolence was contagious? If people actually listened to the other side and heard other voices? But I'm afraid that's La La Land.

Francisco J. Wulff

I fully agree with that!

Metta Spencer
Look at the history of Gandhi's Quit India movement, or at the US civil rights movement. They both involved civil disobedience designed to expose the injustice of existing laws. Sitting-in at a segregated lunch counter, for example. Yes, the protesters could have found their lunch someplace else so why did they offend people by insisting on sitting at the whites' lunch counter? Because they wanted to expose the injustice of segregation and the violence that was used to enforce it.

Francisco J. Wulff
Yes, but I really don't believe that is comparable to the Gaza situation, where the wrongfulness of the law is far less clear to me, and where there are many other legal avenues still open and untried.

Metta Spencer
And, Frank, I agree that the "peace movement loses credibility when activists forget basic common sense." The trouble is, it is not the "peace movement" that broke windows or set cars on fire in Toronto. It was thugs from outside, and they did destroy the credibility of the peace movement, There were many thousands of peaceful marchers that day, whose actions were made to look violent because of 75 Black Block thugs. The organizers of the demonstration should have made if abundantly clear from the outset that anyone participating must agree to certain rules of nonviolent, nondestructive behavior. That is my point: that the organizers bear some of the responsibility for the blackened reputation that came out of the day. They accepted the principle of "diversity of tactics,” meaning that every contingent of demonstrators could decide for themselves what tactics to use, including damaging property.

As for Gaza, I don't think you're very well informed, Frank. The abuses are vastly disproportionate. However, I don't think we're going to reach an agreement about the facts via Facebook. I think you've not questioned as much as you might.

Diane Katz
Actually, the Israelis do have a right to inspect the ships, and they certainly have a duty to protect their citizens. The cement is prevented because they use it to build tunnels to smuggle weapons. Unfortunate because it stops needed construction. Have you any idea how much stuff is confiscated by Hamas and how much they control the supply of goods?

If Gaza wasn't controlled by Hamas and other militants things would be vastly better. You need to put a lot of blame on their leadership. Things are much better in the West Bank. Not as good as it should be, but still a big improvement.

Metta Spencer
Today's Globe and Mail has a big piece on the flotilla, interviewing one of the participants. I happen to know some of the others and would have gone along too if I were 20 years younger and in better physical condition. I recommend this article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/africa-mideast/one-year-after-fatal-clash-a-new-freedom-flotilla-sets-sail/article2078089/

I am no expert on international law and I know the question is disputed as to whether Israel has a right to inspect the ships. Here is one article a week ago on it: http://www.israel-palestinenews.org/2011/06/israels-blockade-of-gaza-is-ill...egal.html However, I consider it an injustice and, even if it is legal, it is wrong — so cooperating with it would be wrong too. I would never vote for Hamas — but I don't know of any party in the Israeli government that I would vote for either. Certainly Diane is right that everything would be better if the antagonists would listen to each other.

Diane Katz

I think one of the most courageous people I've heard of is the doctor from Gaza (who now lives in Toronto) who lost three of his daughters during the war in Gaza two years ago. He worked in Israel, did some of his training there, and has many Israeli friends. Instead of hating (which would be totally understandable), he wants to heal, and build bridges to peace. All strength to him.

Allison Lee-Clay
That was why I walked away from the Legal Observers project: nobody would talk about a pledge for nonviolence, there was too much glee about confrontational non-productive mayhem, I was told to sign a weird silence doc & I was informed I ...wasn't there to testify about crimes I saw on both sides.

The icing on the cake was that we were there to protect the demonstrators, but not the Public & nobody would guarantee that the Legal Team would actually do *anything* for volunteer observers. Really soured me on the whole process.

Metta Spencer

Wow, Allison. What's really shocking. I'm forwarding this conversation to Peter Rosenthal. He ought to hear this one!

And Diane, I too admire that doctor from Gaza. He lives in Toronto now and I ought to interview him. However, he is suing the government of Israel and someone asked him if that was consistent with his decision not to hate. He said yes, that people must be held accountable for their actions, and that has nothing to do with whether your love them or hate them. I think that's right too. Actually, I should add that I never heard his statement myself and am only reporting hearsay. My statement would not be acceptable testimony in a law court. I think I heard it right, but who knows?

Diane Katz
I agree. The government should also apologize, which it has not yet done. However the citizens of Israel should also be free to sue Hamas for their persistent rocket attacks into their towns, but what would be the point? It's not like they have a credible legal system. At least the doctor will get justice. The courts in Israel regularly find against the government and for the Palestinians. He would probably get an Israeli lawyer who will take the case pro bono. He's got plenty of support.

Metta Spencer
Glad to hear good things about the Israeli justice system.

Diane Katz
The justice system is much more liberal than the government. Plenty of Israeli Arab judges, too. It won’t surprise you to know that Israelis don't think much more of their government than you do. But they do love their country, warts and all. (big generalizations here)

Martha Goodings

Metta, i totally agree, although it is not a popular view. Thinking it is up to the cops to make people behave is an idea that not even worthy of kindergarden students

Allison Lee-Clay
I tried starting 'Pacifist Pledge' idea a while ago, which would include a clear-to-draw-and-identify logo that one could (like a Peace sign) apply to one's garment at a demonstration. Along with signing up on Facebook, it could help register one's nonviolent & community-respectfully non-destructive intentions. I got hung up on whether the logo should be a peace sign with wings or something clearer and more creative.

Peaceworks Canada
Some of the media has seriously distorted the picture about what went down concerning the inspections of these boats last year. My fear is that if allowed to land, in reference to Diane's earlier comment, the story will become one-sided. That would not serve the cause for peace now, and never has. The CBG committee has tried every possible avenue available to them to have the Tahrir inspected and sealed, both before setting sail, and later upon arrival, without success. They have even invited Israeli inspectors to come and have a look. There were some frivolous legal attempts made to stall the departure of the boats but so far the participants in the Flotilla have done, and have sworn to do, nothing illegal—please see the oath they took— 'The Red Line' on Bob Lovelace's postings from the boat. Blame is not the answer, a nonviolent action of civil disobedience, which comes from moral indignation at a given set of circumstances however, allows individual citizens to respond from their truest selves. That is why civil disobedience is so successful. We are all (most of us) at heart, caring beings. I will post Bob's blog link later

Metta Spencer
There’s excellent news! Egypt will help the Gaza flotilla. http://bit.ly/jnenfL

Allison, I think it's an interesting idea—to wear a badge showing that you're committed to non-violence. Still, I'm not sure I would wear one. At least, I'd have to attach some footnotes. That is, while I am 95% committed to nonviolence (well, close to it!) there are times when I would use violence to protect life. For example, I was in favor of the No-Fly-Zone in Libya, though not in favor of bombing the airfields first and not in favor of fighting the rebels' war for them. I would have favored putting peacekeepers between the two sides and warning both sides not to fire on the other. That would have given an opportunity for negotiations to begin. It might have involved shooting a few people, though. It would, however, have saved citizens' lives, especially in Benghazi, where Gadhafi had promised to go house to house, killing everyone.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan

I used to do peacekeeper or marshal training for mass demos. It was the way our movement kept its 'nonviolent contract' with the community, since we always had people joining in (we encouraged it), but who may not have reflected well on how they would act if violence broke out. We always maintained a link between organizers and police, and had legal observers too. I don't know if these systems were in place at G20. It would be good if organizers understood the importance of having an integrated entity ready to deal with 'black blocs' counter demonstrators, and any of the many forms of violence which can occur in crowds. We constantly did scenario development and trained for it, it was a real discipline.

Metta Spencer
This is SO important, Yeshua. Thanks for sending it. I will forward it to Rosenthal, who may have some influence with the organizers of such events. I certainly don't have any myself, for I don't think the Toronto people are serious about nonviolence at all.

Allison Lee-Clay
I wasn't informed about nonviolence/pacifism training: in fact I was highly disappointed that I heard nothing about it and I got huge scornful or sneering earfuls about my lack of respect for the 'importance of violence' and 'diversity of tactics' (which I consider a misuse of the term 'diversity'). Moral relativism and equivocations about how 'smashing up somebodys's storefront isn't "violence"! makes me sick with disgust. I can't figure if they're ... stupidly childish remedy-tantrum fits, or just social-psychologically PR-naive assholes.

Somehow the Black Bloc managed to make violence sound as 'morally upstanding' as abortion killings to the ears of their admirers. It does Canadians and our causes no service to let Black Bloc push us out of the press and into the fringes.

Failure to plan is planning to fail. I would enjoy taking a pacifism course & it would feel more morally uplifting than the complete downer I got from the Legal Observer G20 training day.

Robin Collins
We were watching Woody's Allen's new film Midnight in Paris last night. Good film, a lot of fun.... There's a sequence in the film that refers to one of film-maker Bunuel's films
in which the characters cannot leave a room. The sequence is a metaphor for the
confines of Franco Spain (the time of Bunuel's film), but also the resistance
many of us have (some more than others) of getting out of our convenient lives
and standing up for principles, i.e. the inconvenience of "just walking out of the
room". It doesn't matter the nature of the politics.

Today, my thoughts shot back to you, Metta, and your observations at the meeting the
other day when you found yourself virtually alone among activists when you
raised the problem of motives or appropriateness of actions of some people at
recent protests (G20). Your even raising the issue was heresy to some folks.

I've been in similar situations over the years. And my observation is simply
this. While I once sat on the "radical left" side of things, and I don't put
myself in that basket any more, still I don't feel that my basic assumptions
have changed much—but now I am more self-critical, I think I am more careful
in my thinking, and I am critical of tactics employed or knee-jerk thinking used
within the "left" or "peace movement". I am surprised to find that many within
these groups or that stratum often take very reactionary positions on
critical issues. That's maybe what has struck me most, recently. From another
era, people would have difficulty distinguishing some of these views from
extreme right-wing views. Many have abandoned democratic principles in order to
defend or embrace politicized positions based on an "anti-imperialist",
"anti-globalist" point of view. The result is a sympathy, in practical terms,
for dictatorships, or for defending them. (As a former Maoist in the late 70s, I
am aware of how that works! Enemy of my enemy is my friend...)

Even on the Rwanda genocide, which I think is a great barometer for
distinguishing political views, I find there are surprising assessments made, in
retrospect, about what should have been done. Many of the more radical seem to
argue that nothing could be done (because it should have been "prevented"...),
and relying on US troops to stop the genocide could never be justified (because
of US ulterior motives). Outside of these groups, of course, that would be
considered insane. In truth, it's the politics of "anti-imperialism" writ large.
And it's because anti-imperialism is dogma -- it is not a coherent rational
explanation that is particularly useful in solving or even explaining much about
current problems, at least in practical terms.

[I remember a breakthrough for me many years ago was when I stood at a
microphone and criticized some intervention (I can't even remember which one,
probably NATO/Serbia) and Geoffrey Pearson, who was on the panel, said back to
me: "That's fine, but would you DO?" I was very flustered, and I remember
answering that his answer "wasn't fair"! I always appreciated him for
humiliating me, and we became pretty good friends over the years.]

Now dictators and thugs are assessed on the basis of their relationship to the
US or other powers—but mostly the US— (Gadaffi is "OK-ish" because he was
once a Soviet ally, and anti-US.) The Tunisian and Egyptian rebellions were OK
because the regimes [they overthrew] were pro-West regimes. The Libyan situation must be a sign of imperial ambitions, not defence of civilians in Benghazi. All manner of effort
is employed to prove that oil is behind the conflict, and that it has nothing to
do with the Arab spring. There is a ton of retrospective analysis that is
fundamentally nonsense. (I am not diminishing the problems that have arisen
since NATO has decided to remove Gadaffi, likely outside of the UN mandate.)

And there is this effort to "explain" the evils of imperialism to people who
doubt these assessments are legitimate (a laughable, patronizing use of time).
Or worse, to launch ad hominems at critics of the "anti-imperialist" analysis.
It's as if there is this room that a large number of peace activists cannot bear
to step out of. When raising objections, more often than not, critics of the
mainstream leftish approach have been asked to shut up.

I have had a large number of discussions off and on-line with people on both
sides of this debate. Outside of the radical left (whatever that means) I don't
think that very many people actually embrace the "anti-imperialist" analysis.
They at least temper their assumptions about US motives with some doubt.

But you, someone who seems willing to step outside the room without much
hesitation, must have noticed the same problem over the years. Any thoughts? Is
it worse now than, say, ten years ago?

Metta Spencer
As to whether these tendencies are more common nowadays, I can't be sure. i'm not in public gatherings as often now as I probably was 15 years ago. However, Ken also read your letter and thinks that "anti-imperialism" peaked ten years ago during the biggest anti-globalization struggles. Of course, it isn’t surprising that it revives whenever there is an anti-G20 demonstration.

2 Comments:

Blogger Robin Collins said...

In the above, Geoffrey said:
"That's fine, but what would you DO?"
I left out the "what" in my original email.

R

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