Opinion – Comments on Non-violence and Consensus

Posted on 02 January 2012 by geekeasy

violence – noun – behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.

There has been quite a bit of controversy, fear, and even hostility towards Occupy Oakland because the GA has not made any statements of non-violence.  I’d like to share my views on some of the reasons that have delayed or prevented such a statement.

Many occupiers, including me, feel that any declaration of non-violence should make clear that violence against human beings is inherently different and far worse than acts of violence against inanimate objects.

Many also feel that we cannot make any statements condemning violence as a tactic because doing so would condemn the protesters in Egypt whom we feel strong solidarity with.  Any statement against violence must make it clear that there are times and places (like Egypt today) where violence can be justified.

And when we refer to destruction of property as “violence,” the discussion and issues of morality become more complex. “Non-violence,” in broad terms, means that breaking a lock to give a family a place to sleep in a foreclosed home would be an act of violence against that lock.  It’s clear that Occupy Oakland will not support a resolution forbidding that.

In other examples:

* October 26, Occupy Oakland tore down the fence surrounding Oscar Grant (Frank Ogawa) Plaza.
* December 17, Occupy Wall Street tried to tear down a fence surrounding Duarte square.

Both of these were acts of destruction of property, yet they had widespread support.

So the question becomes, how can a proposal be crafted which prevents occupiers from breaking windows, yet does not forbid entering foreclosed homes or tearing down fences?

It’s a complex question, and many ideas have been put forward.   Some suggested condemning violence against people, but not things.  Other ideas called for allowing the possibility of harming property belonging to the global conglomerates, but not local businesses.  Others tried to find wording that some destruction of property could be okay if it was “positive,” and that violence may be okay if it’s in self-defense.  But with the wide diversity of people and opinions within Occupy Oakland, it maybe be impossible to find the right wording which could have near universal suppport.  At minimum, it will be a very long and slow process.  Our time seems better spent working on actions, rather than debating semantics.

The unofficial view, which seemed to come out of many discussions that I’ve been a part of after the November 2 violence, is “Don’t be stupid; Do not engage in any pointless acts of destruction, which are counter-productive to our cause.”

That I unequivocally support.

And in my opinion, the single most important thing to come out of this is in the last port shutdown, there was not a single act of violence from Occupiers.

Ironically, as the City was unable to condemn protesters for violence against people or violence against objects, they changed their message and loudly decried Occupy Oakland for “economic violence.”


January 13th update:  In the wake of OPD arresting occupiers for no reason, and torturing occupiers in custody, some occupiers have called for a not-non-violent Fuck the Police march.  The city needs to recognize that this march is in direct response to their own illegal actions and brutal, violent repression of Occupiers who had adopted tactics of non-violence.