On Strategy & Tactics

Occupy Santa Cruz October 2011Stipulated: The social contract has been abrogated by a corrupt system of unequal justice.

The banksters who brought the economy of the planet to the brink of total and absolute collapse and who ruined countless lives were not prosecuted and continue their destructive schemes to this day. A black man was tackled by multiple police and subsequently killed for selling “loosies” and the police were not held to account. In poor communities and communities of color like Ferguson, the “justice system” is funded partly by burying residents in tickets for minor infractions and when police shoot down the local youth in cold blood and for no good reason and when the community rises in anguish and protest the police protect the business establishments of the local and national elite and watch the auto parts stores and beauty parlors of the have nots burn while pointing military weapons at families protesting the repeated senseless killings of their children.

Stipulated: Unfettered corporate oligarchs are waging war on the planet Earth.

Cynical corporate executives refuse to build double hulled tankers to prevent Exxon Valdezes because it’s cheaper to pay the watered down fines after the utterly predictable disasters than to invest in preventing them, and then spend years after the fines are levied litigating them into greater and greater insignificance. The same lawyers and PR firms who knowingly lied about the lethal effects of cigarettes and mercury and arsenic and lead and CFCs are now stalling on measures to mitigate the effects of carbon in the atmosphere while glaciers melt and ocean levels rise.

And so on.

The question is, what are we going to do about it, what’s our strategy? How are we going to execute that strategy, what tactics shall we employ?

These are important questions. As I write this, the city of Berkeley, California, is covered with broken glass and the smouldering remains of dozens of trash fires, the result of Black Bloc groups who splintered off from what was an otherwise peaceful protest in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Oakland and countless other communities who have had it and who, in the words of poor Eric Garner, declare “it ends today”.

The truth is, it doesn’t end today. When the sun comes up in Berkeley, it will glitter on the millions of shards of broken glass covering the streets and sidewalks, and the dial will not point one inch closer to the social justice and better world the protesters marched for or the Black Bloc smashed for.

Situational protest by itself is not an enduring, effective strategy. Marching and “smashy” by themselves are not effective tactics.

Yes, it is important to represent our pain and anger and our grief. But it doesn’t end there, it doesn’t change anything. So, what is to be done, and how do we do it?

History, recent history, provides some answers. There have been some huge wins in past struggles which can inform our way forward.

When I was growing up in the sixties, in LA, the air quality was so bad smog alerts were regularly issued, the schools were shut down and kids had to stay indoors because the atmosphere was poisonous. Everyone smoked cigarettes and cancer rates went through the roof. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. Huge holes appeared in the protective ozone layer from use of chemicals in air conditioners and underarm spray. The Chicago police department rioted and beat down kids protesting a fixed Democratic convention, and, working with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI drugged Black Panther Fred Hampton and then kicked in his door and shot him to death as he lay in a stupor in his bed. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were being bombed back into the stone age and young people of color were forcibly drafted and sent off to the jungles to finish the job and came back broken or addicted or in body bags for no good reason. Cops raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Paranoid politicians in the US and USSR were ready to burn the world down with nuclear weapons.

Yes, people protested.

But people also organized outside of “the system” and educated themselves and others and created the modern environmental movement and peace movement and civil rights movement and reproductive rights movement and LGBT rights movement and started their own media when the mainstream press lied to them and ignored them and patiently and incrementally and non violently they worked to make things better over years and decades.

And people also worked within “the system” and voted and ran for office and wrote letters and drafted legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and the Civil Rights Act. Nations came together to phase out CFCs to heal the sky and stand down from the atomic midnight.

It’s important to look back and acknowledge those wins and learn from the strategies and tactics which won them.

And it’s also important to acknowledge that it is a never ending process. The greed heads and land rapists and haters and killers are still at it and will always be at it and that’s the way it is because some humans are pretty messed up.

It doesn’t end today.

But people of good heart working together patiently and non violently have a good shot at tomorrow.

Let’s get to it.

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