Why All the Smashy-Smashy? A Beginner's Guide to Targeted Property Destruction.

Comments

1
Does anyone love the Banks, other than Comrade Mitt "Frenchie" Romney who stashes his low-taxed capital gains offshore in accounts where the profit is then not reported, which resulted in record IRS fines on his non-disclosed tax returns?

Well?
2
Well thought out and written perspective on something I myself demonized on more than one occasion today. I cringe a bit at the internal ramifications of so many different points of view, but maybe it will spark useful dialogue between the journalists. Here's a thought, what happens when The Stranger offices are vandalized?
3
@2

Then it would not be well thought out, if it were by anarchists. Or it would be terrorism, if it were by Christian extremists.
4
You're an anarchist. You're breaking a window to illustrate the weakness of the state. Presumably, you want there to be no state, because that's your thing. Lack of faith in the existing state will lead to no state, according to this logic.

I'm sorry, but that does not pass the "not-entirely-stupid" test. Not by a long shot. Not historically, not based on an even superficial understanding of human nature, not based on anything besides magical fairy logic.

5
The Anarchist shouldn't mind, theoretically, when he is beaten to a bloody pulp for breaking windows. Why does he need the rules of a failed state to keep him safe from harm?
6
This is the best slog post ever, and the best thing to come out of The Stranger since that expose on the speakeasy/ELF investigation, and before that, the time Kiley went urban hunting. I met you once, Brendan, giving you a screener at the Seven Gables. I've always had a little crush on you.
7
Oh sure, NOW you give us a good reason to tear shit up. Eighteen minutes too late.

/And dropping the snark for a minute, truly excellent post to top off an amazing day of coverage. Thanks Stranger for the pics and updates and multiple POVs for those of us in less theatrical cities.
8
Fascinating stuff! I wonder how many of the actual vandals have these sorts of things in mind. (And I don't mean that in a snarky YEAH HA NOT LIKE ANY OF THEM WERE THINKING OF ANY OF THAT way, it's an honest curiosity.)
9
@ 6. Aw, shucks. You're making me blush. Do you remember what screener it was?
10
@ 8. Based on the political vandals/targeted property damagers I've met and talked to, I'm guessing most of them were thinking about it deeply—and in a more nuanced way than what I'm writing about here. Contrary to popular opinion, I haven't met many self-professed anarchists and/or political vandals who take their business lightly. When I talk to them, I feel like an undereducated blunderbuss.

These folks, in my experience, know exactly what they're doing and why they're doing it. And they're very efficient in their organization, despite all the silly, superficial jokes about how "anarchists can't organize anything."
11
Terrifically thoughtful and articulate piece. Thanks very much Brendan. I instinctively find the smashing completely defensible, and appreciate the 1,500 words to say why. Now back to the barricades!
12
Without getting into the moral or ethical morass, it might be useful to look at targeted property destruction solely in terms of its efficacy.

There have indeed been plenty of campaigns of targeted property destruction that have succeeded on their own terms; The Boston Tea Party*, comes to mind, as does Kristalnacht**.

There have also, however, been many failed campaigns of property destruction, like the Owens Valley bombings of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, or the destruction of textile machinery by the Luddites.

My initial hunch would be that we'd find the successful campaigns tend to be short (the longer a campaign of property goes on, the more likely it is someone innocent will get hurt) and to enjoy fair to overwhelming support in the society where they take place (if the populace is sympathetic enough, they might even overlook a few innocent people getting hurt).

Other examples, successful and unsuccessful, are welcome; these are just the first things that come to mind, heavily biased by the last half-dozen or so books I've read.

 

* the participants in which, you'll recall, wore costumes to disguise themselves.

** a bad example both for invoking Godwin, and because 91 Jews were in fact killed, yet a good example in that it had massive popular support, and because property was very much the immediate target.
13
Anarchists are not unlike some Republicans I know - they see government as some unapproachable, untamable force for evil when it's really just an extension of society. Rather than shaping it to serve their interests they'd just as soon tear it down entirely. Social and political change is difficult and painstakingly slow. Breaking things is quick and easy. After abstaining from the political process and Internet slacktavism, it's probably the easiest form of protest. There is no sense of the long game to the casual observer, i.e., most Americans. But I suppose it's foolish to ask a bunch of overzealous, testosterone-fueled guys in their early twenties to think about a long game when smashing windows appeals to their vanity and satisfies their needs for action.
14
Rather than shaping it to serve their interests they'd just as soon tear it down entirely.

Well yes, that's basically the definition of radical politics.

I've got a fair bit of criticism for radical anarchists, too, lord knows, but not because I think radicalism somehow isn't a real or viable political stance.

There have been actual revolutions here and there, a handful of them for the better, and they were not usually accomplished by people who were just trying to improve society one step at a time, and then somehow or another things got out of hand.

Which is not to say that incrementalism hasn't improved the world more than radicalism, overall; I'm pretty sure that's true, too.
15
Groups of people deliberately smashing windows feels violent to me. It is destruction. Somebody could get hurt due to broken glass. Is it nonviolent because they used small objects to break windows? If someone drove a car through a window to prove a point, would that be considered nonviolent?

When I saw the photos of boarded up windows, I just felt disappointment. Do the people breaking the windows even know why they are doing it?

Reading this post on SLOG makes me wonder why I even keep SLOG in my RSS feed.
16
Louis Althusser (a Marxist himself) described the 1968 French student riots as 'infantile leftism.' If that's the case, I would call smashing a couple windows 'spermatic leftism.'
17
@14, And after the world is sufficiently burnt, then what? A revolution worth its salt ought to be as much for something as against something else. Anarchism fails the what-now question.
18
@17

A revolution that merely burns the earth doesn't succeed, let alone improve anything. Of course.

But then, there really are revolutions that have succeeded, and also improved things. They're definitely in the minority, as I've indicated, and yet they exist.

I have quite a bit of complaint with contemporary anarchism (and again, I repeat myself) but they do in fact have a "what now." That's pretty much the whole point of the "prefigurative society" stuff you'll hear them rattling on about; the "what now" is, in its most simplified form: direct, antirepresentational consensus-process democracy in place of Hierarchy. Everywhere. At every level.
19
Ahh yes, trading representative democracy for a 300-million-strong general assembly. And as I've rattled on (to you, I think, no less!) who is making sure the stateless power vacuum doesn't spawn thugs and warlords, robbing and raping us blind before we each get a turn with the talking stick?
20
First, great post. Still against vandalism, but now I will at least have to consider the idea that there is at least a breath of a point there.

My main objection to the anarchists tactics is that they seem to try to piggy-back onto the backs of protests groups that want no part of those tactics . It is poor form to co-opt another movements legitimacy with a message and tactics that they find odious. The anarchists should have the courage to have independent marches and actions, that don't depend on protesters that want nothing to do with them, and indeed, find them scary and alienating.
21
@6 and @9, that hunting piece Brenden did was one of the most odious, disgusting pieces I've ever read. Not because I'm against hunting; I'm certainly not. I am against unbelievable and cruel incompetence. Repeatedly shooting a caged animal with a pellet gun, instead of having some integrity and quickly braining or decapitating the poor thing runs counter to all decent hunter's values and techniques. A quick, effective, hopefully painless shot with the right weapon is every competent hunter's goal. Brenden's piece wasn't about hunting, it was about trying on the role of being cruel and bloody, and what it felt like.
22
Not everyone who breaks shit is a violent thug seeking to become a warlord.
All the typical wimpy Seattleite hand-wringing about some smashed glass is what should disgust you.
They are fearful political pussies, groveling to the damn corporate police state, which commands that:
Thou Shalt Not
violate the holy sanctity of Corporate property, no matter how odious the institution and its actions.

The "Anarchists" are right to drive home a point with a little Direct Action...all the proof you need is that even the corporate media sits up and takes notice, if only to attempt to foment much hand-wringing and cluck-clucking schoolmarm-y scolding condemnation.

Without the busted windows, you would get 30 seconds of Page 3 airtime, no discussion of protesters' causes or issues, and the usual witless smarmy anchormannequins' banter of dismissal.
23
Sorry, but if there are people on the other side of those windows, who don't know who is going to stop at throwing a brick, who is going to throw more at them, and who is going to try to burn the place down, then it is violence.

When I come hone to find my windows smashed in, I've either been robbed or vandalized, or both. When I'm hone and someone smashes my windows in, then I've been threatened with violence, and the perpetrators shouldn't be surprised if more violence is the result.

As for efficacy, blocs of tens of people rampaging through a downtown shopping area does not demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the state to most people, it demonstrates the necessity of the state. Most people do not want to have to defend themselves against brick- or Molotov- wielding mobs. That's what they expect the police to do. At most, you only demonstrate the ineffectiveness of a state, not the state. You are more likely to provoke a backlash amongst the people, who will run to the leaders who promise crackdowns and tighter security. You give more power to the state, not less, because terrorizing the public does not tend to make them reflective on the adequate levels of intrusiveness of and power of the state. Ref: 9-11 and the Iraq War, or late 1970s Iran. Ask the residents of Magadishu which they prefer more: the mayhem of a weak state fighting against a terrorist militia, or the oppressive dictates of the Islamic courts. Guess what: they won't be singing the praises of Bachunin.

If the plan is to goad the state into overreacting, then that might work, but you generally must already have the sympathy of the population or a significant subset thereof. This is where these sorts of antics tend to fail: the perpetrators think they're supported by the population (perhaps they're fooled by sympathetic support from the very small subset surrounding them at the time), but in fact they usually are not. More often, their actions are interpreted as acts against the population itself.

Take a couple of extreme examples: Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik. Both thought that the violent mass murders they committed would unleash a latent volkgeist in support of their racist ideologies. They were deluded into thinking that by their acts they could spark revolution, but in fact there must already be enough kindling and accelerant for that (and in these cases, it turns out sociopaths are not so good at reading the mood of the public). Are these bad examples because of the extreme violence? The IRA used to kill people too, but they actually retained support (although at times they overstepped their support too, terrorizing their own people).

What made the Boston Tea Party "successful"? The men already had the sympathy of much of the public. Their action was actually interpreted as a symbolic act against a disliked and distant regime. And the British government's reaction was seen as overblown.

The WTO mayhem might be considered successful in some measure because there was much more widespread (and global) sympathy, and bringing the topic to the fore tended to create more. Furthermore, it prompted a police crackdown that many considered disproportionate. Similarly, Occupy Wall Street really only gathered momentum when some completly non-violent women were pepper-sprayed by police. They were not inciting violence or vandalism. Had they been throwing bricks through shop windows, most viewers would have sided with the police. This is not pre-revolutionary colonial America, or the last years of the Ancien Régime. The public may sympathize with income disparity but threaten their security and they'll quickly forget about unfair economic models and settle for unaccountable street cameras.

Is terrorizing some Starbucks and Niketown employees really going to spark revolutionary thought? Do you suppose the dollar cost of the damage amounts to more than a momentary blip in those companies' income sheets? How many more Seattlites will be reading revolutionary pamphlets at Left Coast Books now, versus how many will actually feel more sympathetic to these multi-national corporations (at where they love to shop, mind you- just ask that guy wearing those Nikes!)?
24
But they also targeted private citizens' cars, so it was not just about corporations and trying to make them "pay" both figuratively and literally. How does that figure in?

Also, there were people in those stores which were attacked. People could have been seriously injured, and while that was not the intent, it is a very real consequence.

Lastly as a tactic it is not effective, escalates the police department, aligns the public sympathy with the police department, and puts other protesters at risk because now they too have to deal with the repercussions from the police and the stigma that the acts of a very few have thrown onto otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Regardless of how well articulated the philosophy is behind the tactic, I still see it as being extremely selfish and damaging to the overall cause.
25
I dunno, Brendan--Home Street Bank? People's cars parked along the parade routes? Nevertheless, this is a worthy articulation of possible justifications for today's violence (yes, "violence," even if a somewhat low-grade "violence upon the roads: violence of horses"). The significant thing to me is that these Kropotkins-by-the-Duwamish did this smack-dab in the warp and weft of the Occupy protest. If they wanted to show the non-inevitability of the State, they could have done so at any time, at any place, smashing windows or otherwse. I think what might have been intended to be demonstrated was the ineffectiveness of the Movement, not of the State itself. Could one say with a straight face that the State was weakened this May Day? Occupy, on the other hand, might have a hard time regaining whatever tepid public support it had before. On the other hand, if the violence was part of some crafty multi-modal long game of Occupy itself --"let's engender public support for a fascist crackdown on us, which will then engender public sympathy for us!"-- it seems a tiny bit illl-advised as a tactical matter. I certainly don't know, because Occupy lost me months ago.

In any event,who doesn't have that wee crush?
26
Also, what @23 says.
27
Thank you for your attempt to explain somethings. This stuff is hard to explain in a few moments so i sympathize with you feeling blasted when you ask what this is about.

One final note, while some in the Black Bloc identify as Anarchist, not all are. The Black Bloc is a tactic, not an ideology. This is not some homogenous group, there are lots of opinions and theories that exist within the Bloc.

That said, those positions are very well examined. You are right when you say they are not Stupid-Know-Nothings. It takes a lot of conviction to do what they do, risking arrest and bodily harm.
28
So, Brendan Kiley if someone disagrees with your politics, or something you wrote, you'd be fine with them coming into your home, and destroying your property, as long as they don't attack you physically? It wouldn't be violence to smash your stuff in an attempt to point out your wrongful opinions, and politics, right? I'm sure destruction of your belongings would convince you how wrong you are.

The only thing these assholes did was put members of the 99% people out of work. The companies will get insurance to cover their losses. This destruction hasn't changed anything. Once again, only the little guys got hurt.
29
@28: Bingo. And it doesn't matter to the righteous. It never has. People can write in support of violent anarchism -and yes, the destruction of property that doesn't belong to you is violence, and deserves to be met with such - who are also appalled at Islamic fundamentalism, or Christian fundamentalism, because in this particular case it's a fundamentalism they agree with.

It's okay to smash a Nike store because Nike sucks. Nevermind the people in the store, or who work at the store for minimum wage, or who own the store in an attempt to make a life for themselves. Fuck them. They work for the enemy. Therefore, in some way, they deserve the financial cost. They deserve the fear. The same way Republicans think poor people deserve to be poor. The same way we all feel like celebrities deserve to crash and burn. We're a punitive race and civilization. It's why socialist revolutions in Central or South America and Asia so often end up slaughtering so many of their own people. This is the tamest, lamest example of that. It also encourages and even supports crackdowns against legitimate protests, because those store owners and employees and their families don't see how smashing their stuff hurts the parent companies (hint: it doesn't). They want the cops to crack down. And the cops do it, and then have a reason to crack down BEFORE the violence next time around. Kudos. You just csrewed yourselves.

I am a member of the 99%. I support (much)higher taxes on companies and individuals that can afford it. I support universal health care and women's rights and gay rights and everything else that makes us better. Smashing things for the joy of smashing, or for a 'cause', does not make us better. People do it because they can. And people who do it deserve to get their asses kicked or thrown in prison.

It also strikes me as funny that people who are against libertarianism stand up so strongly for anarchism. What is anarchy, after all, but a libertarian utopia run wild? A world without law, without limit or restriction... Yep, it's a Ron Paul wonderland.
30
I'm glad you mentioned Zerzan because his followers in Eugene are some of the dumbest smart people I've ever encountered in my life. If you can find copies of the Black Clad Messenger online, read them. Did you know that primitive people lived in a disease free utopia where they lived for much longer than we did? It says so right here so it must be true! Anyone who wants to get us to a time before we had language needs to explain how we get those of us who like being able to communicate ideas to stop without undergoing a reign of terror. Of course they never mention the fact that for us to live how he wants, 5.5 billion or so of the 6 billion people on the planet will have to die, but who cares about that? Zerzan has a dream of a world that never existed but he really thinks it did so what's a few billion people when we can have that?

It's not that I fear that most anarchists are just people using poorly written manifestos to justify adolescent rage. Rather I pray that's the case because the alternative is much worse.
31
In the original post, Brendan says that when the ELF does its stupid shit, "people don't get hurt." Because they're lucky. You see, there's these people called "firefighters." And every time they have to go into a burning building, there's a distinct possibility they'll get killed. So when these dumbasses set a building on fire, they're creating a real risk of somebody dying. Kind of like 4 firefighters did when Martin Pang set a building on fire.

It's kind of like shooting a gun in the air. You may not be meaning to kill somebody, but you're certainly creating that risk. Is that violence? I don't know. But if you say it's not, it's awfully damn close.

And even if what these guys are doing isn't violence, it's still stupid and wrong.
32
tl;dr: you can justify anything if "being right" is more important than achieving change.
33
It would have been far more effective if several streets had been blocked by people sitting in the streets in strategic locations at specific times in flash mob style. Or even blocking streets with abandoned vehicles pushed by large groups. The problem with wanton property destruction is large numbers of people who really want to support justice see this, right or wrong, as something they cannot support. And BTW, who believes that the cost of windows is anything but petty cash?
34
I find this rationalization of injury free abortion clinic bombing and swastika based graffiti as non violent rather distasteful.
35
Kudos to @23 and @28 for expressing my thoughts very literately and thoughtfully. I would just add this. Black Bloc are a bunch of self-entitled little effs that deserve jail. They don't attack "corporations," they attack people's livelihoods. They don't attack "property," they attack the result of people's hard work. If you parked on 6th yesterday you got a broken car window, expense, time to repair, disruption of your life... thanks to middle class white boys who can write 3000 words of manifesto on their justification and excuse, but who are still doing very little but be zealous vigilante fucks. I wonder how many live or work downtown, probably none. As someone who has, for decades, I feel personally at risk due to these guys, way more at risk than I do from corporations. We need to reform bank laws, we need better politics. RMoney and his ilk need to be defeated. But smashing 99%'ers lives up so you can make a precious statement of rage, to me, just deserves nothing but prosecution and jail.
36
From using Christ as an historical example about proactive vandalism, to describing the Sean Carlson incident, to interviewing John Zerzan, Brendan Kiley shows why he's probably next to get the Pulitzer at The Stranger.
37
28

damn Bob...
that was pretty insightful.
38
If insomnia causes great posts and commentary, I wish endless drips and barking dogs and car alarms upon us all, forever and ever amen. This is worth dozens, nay hundreds, of typical daytime threads. Thanks, Brendan and all.
39
"There is an enormous moral distinction between smashing a bank window and smashing a person." --

Actually, in some schools of thought, there is not so much of a distinction. John Locke, for example, emphasizes that one's property is achieve through the application of one's labor, an extension of one's life. A thief, therefore, by taking your property, is threatening a part of your life, because if he would violate the product of your life, what's to stop him from violating your life itself?

Also, the use of property damage serves a primal and cultural symbolic function: "I did this to your property, that is a proxy for my doing it to you." It is a threat of bodily harm to the owner, so property stands in as a moral representation of people. In some disciplines, that is very much considered as a type of violence.

I am willing to buy that there is a specific legal term that was misused here, but morally, it is not so clear.

(bah, posted on wrong article, parallel-reading too many at once)
40
Cosigning with many above; esp 12, 13, 20, 23, 25, 28, 33

Additionally:
Considering how many times the "black block" cells and actions turn out to be led by government agents and informers*, we can assume that is the story behind yesterday's smashing. They've successfully destroyed any legitimate protest movement on the West Coast for the past 25 years. The State only gets stronger. Good work Special Agent Zerzan!

*See the documentaries "If a Tree Falls" and "Better this World" for a beginners' guide to government infiltration.
41
What @23 @28 and @35 said. Brendan justifies this violence (yes, it's violence) with a long post and ends saying that that he's not "a proponent of targeted property destruction." This is the same sort of shit double talk that one hears on Fox News. Fucking grow a pair and stand for what's right, Brendan, instead of throwing these assholes a bone to keep your access to them.
42
When people are inside the places having their windows smashed it IS violence. In fact, it's terrorism.
43
Excellent way to put a positive spin that SLOG, it wasn't violence, it was vandalism!

Given that the anarchists were fully allowed to mingle back into the crowd tells me Occupy Seattle condones their actions, as they are unwilling to do anything about it.
44
Brendan--I can appreciate the moral distinction between violence against people and "violence" against property (and agree that it is linguistically lazy and/or unnecessarily inflammatory to conflate them), but--please do not use the ELF's use of arson as an example of the the latter. Because people really could get hurt (or worse) by that sort of thing.
45
"There is an enormous moral distinction between smashing a bank window and smashing a person."

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the mob mentality? A group that smashes panes of glass, left unchecked by outsiders, will often resort to more and more violent tactics. As individual identity is lost and the vandals identify more with the group, smashed glass leads to further property damage leads to physical threats leads to physical harm.
46
This was some bullshit.

First of all, Brendan, if you're going to spend several paragraphs in a pedantic discourse on how "violence" is only violence when it happens to people, it might help if you actually looked up the definition of "violence" first. That word doesn't mean what you think it means. Although I guess if you can't be bothered to kill a small animal in a reasonable way, you sure as shit can't be bothered to look up a word before you write about it.

Second, your example of the practical use of targeted property destruction is terrible. He didn't break a window to open a door. He broke a window to get arrested. It was going to happen outside, or when he climbed in, or when he entered the meeting, or when he began speaking, or when he tried to leave. That was the only possible outcome. Call it for what it is: a publicity stunt. There's nothing wrong with publicity stunts as such but your labored, I-read-a-pamphlet-once taxonomy is amateurish.

Third and finally, I would someday love to see some anarchists in this country act not against a Potemkin village of retail storefronts but against the places where power actually resides. Of course, that's a lot harder and riskier. And they don't get to piggyback on top of a legitimate protest where they can hide and run away.

Because the truth is that the people breaking shit yesterday were cowards. They did the easiest, least risky thing they could and they had a corresponding lack of impact. This street theater with the cops is just pawns moving against pawns. But that's not an article Brendan will write.
47
@ 22 Without the smashed windows you would have a chance to be taken seriously instead of pissing off people. Take a clue from Gandhi and MLK and keep your protests non-violent. And they had much bigger causes to fight for.
48
I'd also like to add that that "golly, they DO have an ideology behind their actions. I guess we should respect it." reaction by some posters here is why I don't consider myself a liberal anymore after Occupy. In fact, it's what killed Occupy.

I remember the first real moment of pause about the movement occurring while I was camping overnight at Westlake. We weren't using tents at that point, so I was lying on the ground with a sleeping bag at 3 in the morning. I woke up to howls of "fuck the police." There was a group of about 15 kids baiting a couple of police officers who were minding their own business at the edge of the camp. Nobody else was doing anything about it, so I went over and told them to calm down, that these people were part of the 99% as well. They responded that police were tools of the oppressor, and as such this behavior was justified. One explained that the modern police force had its roots in catching runaway slaves, and as such was an irreparably racist institution that had to be permanently destroyed. This was their focus for Occupy - fighting with the police.

The response from otherwise sane liberals in Occupy was overwhelmingly, "they make a good point, and everyone should allow their voices to be heard." This is the essence of liberalism: tolerance of any ideology no matter how little practical sense it makes. It was like Biff from Back to the Future goading Marty McFly into doing whatever he wanted by calling him a chicken. All an anarchist had to do to get a liberal to acquiesce on an issue was to accuse him or her of not being tolerant.

If you want to know why Occupy couldn't police itself or stay on message, look in a mirror.
49
People expect ideological purity from those whose ideology compels them to break the law.
50
Frankly, I have more respect for the ELF than these cowards. The ELF chose meaningful targets, picked their own date and time without relying on innocent protesters, and when they struck people noticed and understood their agenda. That's three for three ahead of the Black Bloc.
51
And yet what did it accomplish?
52
Kiley makes the seemingly obvious distinction between property damage and person-on-person violence. Not sure if this has been said, haven't read all comments: When you're smashing windows in my neighborhood, the distinction seems very pale. Indeed, it is violent, and, um, buildings are people too.
53
So all 200 black bloc was undercover cops. Right. Unless this is confirmably true, please shut up. Even if there were undercover cops not arresting black bloc as part of some sort of conspiracy theory, please tell me you have hard evidence that the cars on 6th ave were smashed by police rather than by protesters.
54
Yes, both practically and theoretically sound to smash the windows of American Apparel, a company that famously pays its workers a living wage and doesn't outsource. Clearly, the work of sophisticated, big-picture window-smashers.

And by the way, Brendan, there were workers in those stores cowering in fear. Ask them if they felt violence was done to them before you accuse other reporters of laziness.

Other than that, nice thumbsucker, bro.
55
Thanks, Brendan. This was informative and I appreciate it.
57
And as @20 & @46 have said - What pisses me off about these antics is that they are using a peaceful protest as a shield. It's a cowardly tactic, and regardless of their goals it alienates them. Even from people who might be sympathetic to their "cause".

Of course this tactic of "targeted vandalism" only works if you have a peaceful marching protest to occupy the majority of the police's attention. Which is why they do it that way, instead of having their very own protest/riot. This piggy-backing on someone else's cause (immigration, labor) is bullshit.

The Occupy Wall Street marches and protests showed that you CAN get attention without smashing up a block. It also helps if you have a targeted and easily communicated issue. I wish Occupy Seattle or whatever it is now would get back to that income disparity message. I know I personally feel it is the root of several serious problems in the US these days.
58
@46++ (and many others), Brendan's definition of "violence" is political, not factual. Pretending that the word "violence" does not apply, at least in some widely accepted definitions, to the destruction of property is a lie (and incredibly lazy, stupid journalism).

That said, yes, we can draw a moral distinction between breaking a window and breaking a bone. But as others have said, when you're scaring the shit out of people by breaking their windows, or destroying residential property (my house), or destroying property specifically to intimidate individuals, or destroying my property that was the result of my personal hard work, those distinctions quickly become less than clear.
59
@15: Because actively considering points of view that you disagree with can make you a wiser and more thoughtful person? If you let it, of course.

Cf seattleblues, who reads other POVs but never considers them.
60
Not buying it.

Sure, some of them may have some fairly sophisticated justifications in their own minds, but I don't think they are very well thought out.

I'd guess that every one of the businesses that got smashed was fully insured. All that broken glass didn't cost them a dime. They may even have been insured against the loss of profits for the day. The only people who were effected were the employees—many of whom make little more than minimum wage—who were sent home for a day or two with no pay. I'm sure they'll appreciate the nuanced thought of the anarchists that cost them part of their paychecks this month.

And while there may have been some logical forethought to the choice of some of the businesses they vandalized, smashing car windows is just random mob violence.

I also think it is cowardly and despicable to hide themselves among a crowd of explicitly peaceful protesters. The anarchists vandalism did far more harm the the movement of the peaceful protesters than it did to Nike or American Apparel. The news coverage of the peaceful protests was completely cooped by coverage of the smashed windows.

The anarchists may think they are thoughtful and purposed in their vandalism, but it was a gigantic fail on all levels.
61
Brendan, thanks for explaining the "why" of some of these actions - too often, when I've asked people who've participated in these events, they speak in their own weird, pseudo-intellectual language and I can't follow the thinking.

I don't read this article as a defense of these tactics, but more of a recent historical overview of tactics. I imagine that the IWW and early Labor tactics would be somewhat related?
62
Let's call this what it really was. A bunch of guys with tinydickitus and their sexually frustrated partners commiting acts of violence.

If there was a HRC dinner downtown, and a bunch of right-wing protesters broke all the windows in the restaurant and left, you all would be screaming about the violent acts and threats.

I knew plenty of people who acted like this when I was 21. Break shit, steal shit, stick it to the man. All of them are now small town cops in Eastern Washington. I fully expect the same thing from this fresh crop of black bloc assholes.
63
Nice handjob to a bunch of thugs. Oh and you missed all the smashed/spray painted cars, but I guess those where owned by big buisness too right? I bet if someone threw a brick through the stranger office, the first slog post would be ranting about some asshole wrecking their property. These people are thugs. And they're idiots, smashing one window isn't going to stop capitialism. Fuck.
64
@ 51. We're talking about what happened and why. That's what it accomplished.
65
Oh for chrissakes. Fuck this idiotic article with a ten ton dick. These college anarchists, and you, have absolutely nothing going for you. You're not fighting the power of the 1%; you're doing the opposite, you're trivializing your complaint and making it more, not less, likely that you will be ignored in the future. You don't have the force of popular opinion behind you, which means you don't exist. Your mouthfuls of theory are juvenile and meaningless. You're not subverting the state, you're subverting the lives of ordinary people, lives which are far more meaningful than your own, because they are part of something real, and you are part of something imaginary.
66
I do agree that in some cases there ARE "compelling, not-entirely-stupid arguments for vandalism as a form of protest, and as a way to force people's attention towards certain problems that we might otherwise ignore in the deafening static of our undisrupted, workaday lives," but yesterdays window-smashings don't really meet this in my opinion. In fact, they forced people's attention AWAY FROM the problems that both the Occupy and, more importantly, the Labor and Immigrant Rights protesters were trying to address. The folks breaking windows had to know that their actions would be the most covered and talked about in the media. They chose to steal all the attention away from the poor people, immigrants and other protesters. They may cite these theories and principles, but it really comes down to them seeing themselves and their tactics as more important than the other people that chose to gather yesterday and protest differently. That seems wrong to me.
67
Mr. Kiley @64: Feed a hungry single mom with that. House a homeless person. Stop a cop from smashing a suspect's face so-accidentally with that. Then you'll get me to agree that it's a legitimate tactic. Charles Manson got people talking, too. If getting people talking (which is a close relative of wanting to be famous) is your goal, do something better with your energy. Or are you all violence and no product?
68
I really appreciate this point of view on the Stranger, especially because I know no other journalist would have the guts to go here and Brendan is awesome for it.

That said, I'm not swayed. Vandalism is bullshit and, in both the long and short term, bad for the cause. Positive action always trumps negative action in terms of public perception and how history looks upon it years later (excluding the war-mongerer point of view.)

Even worse, anarchists alienate people like me from participating in the cause. I worry about violence and, call me a wimp, but I'd rather stay home than get tear-gassed, injured or arrested. And I grew up marching on Washington for various liberal causes—protest marches are normal for me! If anarchist behavior excludes ME from attending marches, imagine how many other legitimate, important voices are not heard.

Finally, "targeting" chain stores simply based on appearance is a dangerous plan of attack and, forgive me, akin to corporate profiling. Not all stores are evil, just because they look like what some people perceive as evil. Blindly attacking what is perceived as evil is a tactic of the ignorant: terrorists, bigots, the helpless and fearful. It is not an empowered act.

Rationalize destruction of property all you like, but I'll always stick to the methods of Gandhi and MLK.
69
Brendan, you get a C plus at best. I liked the time you took to actually listen to John Zerzan's rationales for violent shocks to everyday complacency. But do look at the chilling effect the prospect of window breaking rampages has on the willingness of people to march in the streets. This is killing a movement that needs unity and festiveness and a family safe environment if it is to grow. The continual hijacking of the message by the black bloc is destroying any trust. Occupy Seattle needs to own up to their failure.
70

Until someone can tell me why they attacked American Apparel which states on their website that they are "sweatshop free" I have to assume these hooligans are paid vandals.

Why would they target a company providing affordable clothing to working people?

http://www.americanapparel.net/

71
The OED defines "violence, n." as:

"The exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom."

The media using the word to describe property damage were using it correctly.
72
Before I dip into the comments I just wanted to give you kudos Brendan. This is an excellent post.
73
@60 most policies have a $5 to 10K deductible for vandalism
74
@all the people talking about folks co-opting peaceful protests for violence:

let's not forget that May Day is associated with International Workers' Day because of the Haymarket Riots that happened on May 4, 1886 in Chicago.
75
This is a great post. The comments are amazing, often infuriating. Black block tactics are not "antics" nor "terrorism" but sane actions by thinking people. They can be condemned sanely and reasonably too, so it's interesting to see that many of those who object to the tactics belittle and misrepresent them. I don't understand the whole thing, but I think it's a key pathology—this disabling horror many otherwise intelligent people feel at the sight of property destruction—and this post at least articulates that question. Great related stuff a few weeks ago when Chris Hedges condemned the Black Block tactics and David Graeber wrote an excellent response in n+1. You'll have to Google it, if this interests you. Thank you, Brendan, for insisting that we think about this stuff.
76
@74 - Thanks for making the connection!
77
Here's an idea,go out and vote. You know who has the lowest voter turnout? The same age group that is most likely to "solve" their political issues by smashing shit. Children take childish actions. Grow the fuck up
79
Wow, that's an impressively large mass of shit you've pooped out, Brendan. Is this just a thought experiment, or do you actually believe it?
80
First an introduction: I'm an Evergreen State College grad who once participated in protests in Oly and Seattle. I know the issues.

I side squarely on the side of global economic trade, bourgeois capitalism and industrialism. This article was very good, and the broken-windows theory is my focus in this comment.

This is a call to make the distinction that tolerating vandalism should not be limited to one slice of the political spectrum. Smashing things at the Port of Seattle makes sense to one political thesis, then burning down a community owned organic farm makes sense to another political thesis.

Consider that vandalism -and by that I mean acts of destruction calculated to disable a culture or at least provoke critical thought- against all the great and small places anarchists, primitivists and Leftists exist could make sense within certain political goals.

http://www.amazon.com/Manual-Redneck-Tec…


81
Which windows would MLK smash?

I agree that destruction of property is not the same as violence. I also agree that there are times when it's a valid tactic (see: ELF). But I disagree that this is that time, or that it's having the kind of effect on the bottom line you claim it is having. The only possible positive thing it can bring is attention to invisible concerns, and it has to be carefully planned and publicized to do that correctly. It is so universally unpopular that it will cause backlash, and few movements can afford it. OWS, and the issues they stand for, can't afford it.

The only correct path for those of us concerned with economic injustice is nonviolence, and that does include abstaining from destruction. Nonviolence was a thoroughly powerful tool for the Civil Rights movement because it showed middle America what people were willing to endure in the name of justice. The marchers and protestors could never be depicted in a negative light, because whether they were having hoses and dogs turned on them, or were having their home windows smashed in the night*, or were being yelled at, having stuff dumped on them and thrown at them as they tried to go to school or eat at a segregated lunch counter, or were being murdered by cowardly assasins, they had done nothing which could show anyone that they had deserved it. The segregationists were left sputtering and looking like the goons that they were, and popular opinion was won by the Civil Rights workers. They would have won nothing if they were the ones smashing windows first.

* The May Day people who smashed the mayor's windows last night now have something in common with the Klansmen of the 60s.
82
Brendan, thanks for helping me at least consider the other side here.

I still think that violence and vandalism are only acceptable methods of demonstration when the majority of the population is in agreement about something and that something is not happening.

I can only see the vandalizing of personal vehicles, Nike and American Apparel stores as either senseless destruction (which is not OK) or anti-consumerist sentiment and as much as I agree with anti-consumerist sentiment the fact is that the vast majority of Americans are pro-consumer culture whether they are consciously aware of it or not. As long as most people don't want that to change these are not acceptable tactics.... The banks on the other hand, I have to think about that...
83
It's not violence, if you make your own definition for what violence is. But based on the dictionary definition of violence, it qualifies.

vi·o·lence/ˈvī(ə)ləns/
Noun:
1.Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.
2.Strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force.

Mind you, I'm not a fan of big banks or corporate entities like Forever 21 that sell cheap crap made for pennies but have a giant mark-up, even if it's only $20 at full price. But it was violence, pure and simple.
84
"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle... It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.... Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."

-Fredrick Douglass- 1857
85
I can see the points made here as valid, except for the fact that so many chose to smash personal property and storefront windows of smaller shops as well. It might be true that *some* of the people destroying things have a political statement to make... but unfortunately a larger percent are just in it to break things and get away with it these days.

I was rooting for the guy in the tie to nail his car window smasher, honestly. Maybe if that guy has to pay for a hospital bill he will think twice before mindlessly attacking innocent citizens again.
86
So it's a question: Did today's vandalism detract from the protests? If it was all hand-holding and vigils and kumbaya, would the press have replaced their coverage of the smashy-smashy with an equal amount of attention to "secure communities" and "e-verify" and how Wells Fargo makes money off of private prisons? Or would that have all been equally—or even more—ignored?
It didn't detract from it; there was nothing there to detract from. The non-violent part of the program didn't matter. All the violence did was make the events of the day look violent as well as stupid and irrelevant.
87
"Both vandalism and violence are forms of aggression. Yes, they take place along a moral continuum. Violence is worse. But when people, animals, etc. are nearby, the distance between vandalism and violence can be very short indeed.

Most people are cognizant of this reality. They know that once you let out the genie of aggression for whatever purpose, righteous intentions may not be enough to prevent a situation from careening into violence......"

More on this subject here: http://www.jawjawjaw.com/2012/05/02/vand…
88
Oh jeez, BK, I don't remember. It was a few years ago. But if you want to try to figure it out, we could rack our brains over a beer. :)
89
people don't get hurt
If you don't think people got hurt by the fire at the UW, you're a complete jackass. PEOPLE'S LIVES WERE DESTROYED. Careers went up in smoke. Many decades of research were ruined. Go talk to the people who worked in that building and tell them they weren't hurt by what happened. They WERE hurt, and they bear the scars of that attack today. The human endeavor of science was hurt by that attack.

God DAMN it. That kind of hand-waving bullshit makes me really angry. It's just pure garbage on a plate.

Now tell me that when your anarchist buddies attacked the mayor's house "no one got hurt". Just a couple of windows, right? What's the big deal? He's got fucking KIDS. You think they weren't hurt by having thugs throw bricks through their windows? You don't think terrorism is violence?

This is rank, putrid garbage.

On the plus side, I can add "Madagascar" and "Christiania" to the list of things that "the esteemed" (by jackasses) David Graeber doesn't know anything about.
90
@70 Because they are dumb kids.

@75 See above. Dumb kids with dumb theory behind them ,but dumb kids nonetheless.
91
You make the assumption that people jump to conclusions because they have not taken the time to consider the anarchists position and point of view. Accept the fact that most of us have entertained these notions at some point (most likely when we were young and full of vigor) and rejected them as bullshit.
To the commenters that say something along the lines of "oh jeez, wow, I guess now I need to consider this issue from a different angle": you are a fucktard. Thanks.
92
Violent resistance != the onanistic smashing up of corporate chainstores.

These activists aren't huge thinkers, just a bunch of dudebros (of varying gender) in Blackspot shoes.
93
Jaysus, Kiley, you should've been the won to win the Pulitzer, for chrissakes!

"As for the guy supposedly wearing Nike shoes while smashing up the Nike store?"

He stole them, obviously.

While I don't agree with either the protest march nor the minimal vandalism against the stores and any newsy's cars (as in KOMO filth, etc.), the only thing that has really worked, historically speaking, is blowing up the senior executives in their autos, and occasionally blowing up their corporate offices (as the heroic McNamara brothers did to the LA Times in 1910, etc.).

Unions in America only truly begain to make progress when they formed an unholy alliance with small, ethnic criminal organizations (misnamed by newsies as "organized crime") and those execs would start their autos back in the 1930s and 1940s and be blown to smithereens!

Works for me.......
94
What would really work would be a targeted assassination program, just like the evils did back in the 1960s when they took out John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Rev. King and Bobby Kennedy.
96
@91 This is a lesson Ron Paul fans have just learned. The problem is not that people don't understand their vies, the problem is that people have considered them and decided to rejected them.
97
@20 - Exactly. These black-clad alleged anarchists have shitty, shitty politics to go co-opting another --allied-- group's event.
98
Brendan what we're talking about is the violence/property destruction, not the actual issues of what the May Day protests were supposed to be about.

Again, ineffectual tactics that detract from overarching message.

I bet if a poll was taken today measuring how favorably the citizens saw the police department their approval rating would be much higher versus even a week ago. Same goes for the mayor. The vandals handed the city a gift, anytime/anywhere property destruction is used for protest it hands law enforcement a publicity gift and a heavier hand to deal with dissidence.

I'm still interesting to see how smashing the windows of citizens cars and the attacks on the mayor's house last night fits in with the theory laid out in this post.

99
@97: " another --allied-- group's event."

What makes you think they're allies? They have radically (no pun intended) different goals, aside from the means.
100
Sorry, Brendan. You don't get to redefine words to suit your politics. Violence has NEVER meant actions only against people.

101
@100: Right. They're not "vandalizing" the system. They see themselves as "SMASHING" the system.

It's necessarily violent. Trying to whitewash it for political purposes, even optimistically so is insincere and waters down their message.
102
Seriously, even if breaking an object wasn't violence, this is absolutely violence through symbolic value. The buildings, the windows are all representational of real people and actual forces.
103
'Carlson, being an anarchist—who believes that personal autonomy should not always and everywhere be subordinate to political authority, which is a much more accurate definition of an anarchist than "one who celebrates chaos"—'

Both definitions are stupid, but the one you say is more accurate is completely idiotic. Everyone -- except maybe Stalin or the pope -- believes that personal autonomy should *not always and everywhere* be subordinate to political authority.