Opinion

Mass Protests or Community Building?

A successful movement needs to be quick on its feet and adapt, and the goal has to be one of winning over people to our idea of the common good that we can build together.

By Michael Borrelli
Published June 28, 2010

After a weekend spent consuming images of street violence from Ontario's capital, I wonder whether progressives in the West can continue to organize in a manner that has, over the past ten-plus years, become the standard operating procedure for international summits/mega-protests.

This model is big-tent, is mainly non-violent, and is often an attempt to shut down a meeting so that summiteers are put face-to-face with those citizens and their reasons for being there. It was popularized by Seattle, but has rather quickly been co-opted by radical elements and security forces to serve to delegitimize legal, peaceful protest.

The images monopolizing local news media coverage have been almost exclusively of the unlawful and immoral actions perpetrated by black-clad misfits and their gas-mask equipped counterparts on the other side of the security fence. Despite some excellent coverage of the weekend's events by print and broadcast media (Matt Galloway's weekend duty at CBC headquarters, right in the middle of things, was excellent), there is no doubt that the protesters' messages were completely lost behind smoke and tear gas.

I saw numerous shots of hooligans with makeshift weapons wantonly smashing the shopfronts where many new Canadians make their livings. Any employees required to work in Toronto's abandoned core (while the bankers spent the G20-Long-Weekend back in suburbia, or at the cottage) cowered in fear with their customers as the usual corporate suspects incurred the wrath of thugs.

Starbucks, despite attempts in recent years to accede to critics' demands, was targeted yet again with a scripted zeal that continues to defy logic.

Whether these thugs were actually radicals otherwise aligned to the movement, or another round of state-sponsored agent-provocateurs used to undermine the legitimacy of all concerned citizens, it really doesn't matter: the jig is up.

At Best a Draw

Black Bloc 'anarchists' seemingly made fools of the combined security apparatus on display downtown on Saturday by moving outside their reach and wreaking havoc, and police quickly exploited their foes' weakness by conducting mass, questionably legal raids and arrests in the dark of night, and more, later in broad daylight.

In Seattle, protesters might have gotten within long-range spitting distance of delegates, but in the infamous "post-9/11" world, security concerns trump civil rights, and the absolute requirement for public debate on important topics. So a security island in the biggest city in the country is forcibly erected, and delegates and viewers at home never get to hear or see any of the reasons driving citizens to protest.

Fort Harper was built in a week, and because of its overwhelming success, the mass public - the millions of citizens that stayed home - saw only expensive mayhem and cheap photo-ops of world leaders. They may have also seen a justification for the outrageous billion-dollar public expense to build Fort Harper.

Regardless, progressives have to view this past weekend as a draw, if not a straight-up failure. No issues were raised or discussed. Twitter feeds served us real-time pictures of violence, and many a Saturday night BBQ was spent discussing the property damage and immense cost, but not the underwhelming commitment to maternal health, the lack of any progress on the environment, and a stalemate on economic issues that amounted to nations going their own way on bank taxes and stimulus spending.

So violent protesters were aided by the massive security force in derailing any kind of meaningful discussion of these issues. Leaders made important decisions, as they frequently do, without consulting citizens, and those of us who actually care about finding solutions to some of the world's ills that might be rectified through coordinated international action are left disappointed.

There Must Be a Better Way

Someone in a union office somewhere has got to be reading news reports from the past weekend, thinking, "Hey, is this the way we keep doing things? How can we avoid the same traps over and over?"

I single out labour unions because traditionally they have held the organizational know-how and resources that facilitate large protest movements, and someone at one of the big unions that sponsored the weekend's rallies has to be thinking that there's a better way to expend those great expenditures of resources and effort.

On the Monday after the Battle of Toronto, I'm not sure what that model is, but it the only way it can get worse than cat-and-mouse games with stormtroopers (who may or may not be eager to beat you up) is if people start getting killed (again). The larger messages are not getting through to the large, meaty segment of the population that needs to get behind a movement that will actually influence a ruling regime, especially one as conservative as Stephen Harper's. I do think, however, that Western progressives need to reconsider the old adage, "think global, act local."

Imagine, instead of ten thousand people converging on a security-controlled ghost-town, labour unions hosted dozens of community BBQs at local parks just outside the perimeter, inviting its members, out-of-town protesters, concerned citizens, and neighbourhood residents to congregate in a legitimate and convivial forum.

A network of family-friendly, non-violent, and engaging public events (not unlike the successful community BBQ held in Beasley Park this past weekend) would have made it very difficult for fear-mongering politicians to argue that the massive expense behind Fort Harper was required to protect delegates from the unruly rabble.

Building Community

If people want to take the "act local" idea even more seriously, protesters can reduce their carbon footprint by just staying at home, and spending time talking to their own friends, family and community about the issues that are important to them. Or join the groups, like those in Hamilton, that organize local meetings, anti-G8 concerts, and other events.

Some will say it's important to fight the state's smothering encroachment into public space, but I think the battle for the civil right to peacefully protest and communicate with our leaders about important issues can be fought just as effectively from a parkette in Oakville (bringing the issues right to where the Moneymakers live).

This kind of decentralized, community-based activism eliminates the ability for radical and destabilizing elements to ply their trade for the cameras. It also builds valuable social networks where it matters most: at the community level.

This is not a declaration that the old mass-mobilization tactics that defined generations of activists are now dead. It's a frank admission that, for the time being, the State Security Apparatus that inevitably shows up at every international summit has our playbook, and they're beating us.

A successful movement needs to be quick on its feet and adapt, and the goal has to be one of winning over people to our idea of the common good that we can build together, not scaring them off with images of destruction.

Michael Borrelli is a social researcher living with his family in the Beasley neighbourhood of downtown Hamilton. He tweets @BeasleyBadger.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 14:56:55

Imagine, instead of ten thousand people converging on a security-controlled ghost-town, labour unions hosted dozens of community BBQs at local parks just outside the perimeter, inviting its members, out-of-town protesters, concerned citizens, and neighbourhood residents to congregate in a legitimate and convivial forum. - Michael Borrelli

The powers that be will probably thank-you for buying their factory farmed beef and pork and genetically modified bleached flour hot-dog buns and then continue about their business knowing full well that "common good" is a minority cause.

We can rail against "elites", "corporate raiders" and our "bought and paid for politicians". But the real problem is the people. The majority are either enjoying their consumption lifestyle of globalized goods, are happy to eat the pabulum fed to them by our "leaders", are overcome by cynicism or simply don't and never did give a flying fig.

We live in a democracy... you are seeing it in action.

How do we change that Michael is the big question and one you are right in asking it. I don't know if there are many answers for you out there. For my part, I think those questions are better answered in the dark corners of seedy bars over frothy cold beverages : )

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 16:08:56

Protesters holding a bake sale in a park in a different city: that'll show em.

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By A (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 16:45:15

The anarchists are by the very definition of the word against any kind of order and societal rules. It is a shame that the misguided so called legitimate protesters aided and abetted the crimes committed in Toronto.
I hope the courts put these young idiots through the legal wringer.

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By JIM (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2010 at 17:10:13

I was thinking if large unions rented a sports stadium like the rogers centre, It would easily accomodate 10,000 plus groups. A number of stages and areas could be erected and it could be run like a convention. Each group would get screen time and heard. And violent protesters would be ejected. Police would not be allowed to surround everyone with riot gear because it would be private property.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2010 at 18:10:40

If people want to take the "act local" idea even more seriously, protesters can reduce their carbon footprint by just staying at home, and spending time talking to their own friends, family and community about the issues that are important to them.

Yes- I'm afraid I was wondering how many protesters had flown in to Toronto, and hoping that the anarchists who had set fire to the police cars weren't doing so to protest global warming.

On a different note-- we have the right to peaceful assembly in this country, whether we want to do so at Queen's Park or A "parkette in Oakville." Whether or not it's an effective tactic to do it in large numbers , we do have the right to do so.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 28, 2010 at 18:31:13

If peaceful protesting worked, raised issues effectively, or actually got the positive media attention that "violent" protesters prevent, then why are we still in Iraq and Afghanistan? We've seen the largest protests since the Vietnam Era, some with hundreds of thousand of people, and virtually all peaceful. The coverage we got were token human interest stories at best. There is a fundamental unwillingness to cover radical issues or perspectives within the media, no matter how they're being brought up, or how much evidence they have. Read a bunch of newspaper articles on crime policy, then 10 academic papers (hardly the "radical lunatic fringe"). You'll see

I'd be a lot more moved by the whole "peaceful protest" argument if so many of the people who've lectured me about it in the last week weren't virtually all people who made a solid policy of ignoring or bashing all the peaceful protests I've been involved with (probably 10 to 1, numerically, versus the rowdy ones I've witnessed) too. Anarchists spend almost all of our time on simple community work - community gardens, bookfairs, or getting involved with virtually any mainstream social struggle you could name (poverty, the environment, labour, First Nations etc). For this we get virtually no media recognition, especially when the activist cause has a convenient liberal critique which the newspapers would prefer to cover, which fit much more nicely into a 300-word column.

Everything I've heard out of Toronto at the moment is absolutely terrifying. I know the relevant laws VERY WELL (having had to help friends get out of them many times over the last decade), and what the police have been doing is illegal in the extreme. I can't talk about many of them quite yet (other people's pending legal charges etc), but they're laughable and break basic police guidelines (like officers refusing to give their badge numbers after kicking in a door and handcuffing everyone in the house). And then there's that nasty video of all those peacenik kids getting their asses kicked while singing "Oh Canada".

If some broken corporate windows de-legitimize a march of 10 000 people, then what are we to say of the actions of the police?

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By zippo (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 07:38:42

I don't agree with everything done by the "black block" at protests, but, that said, if the agenda the G20 "Leaders" are pushing is not worth starting a riot over I don't know what is.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 09:00:17

Here's a fresh idea...perhaps instead being a protester why don't you go do something other than that? All the protests you've been in have resulted in what exactly? You seem to be under the impression that protests are simply facebook organized however you don't seem to understand that reality of professional "protesters" who are hired/brought in for the very purpose of instigating problems. If you decry corporations so much why don't you, instead of wasting your time bailing out friends who were supposedly arrested "illegally" created a not for profit organization that actually has an effect? I don't think I need to tell you what the definition of idiocy is... well I will: doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Ever hear that before?

Obviously these types of protests don't hurt the corporations as much as the individuals who own the business (the franchisee) who has to pay for repairs. When I see comments scrawled on bank walls that say "bomb da banks" I don't think to myself "What a peaceful protest that was" I think "I hope someone taught that guy a lesson".

Rather than pushing every law you know to the limit in an effort to cause "the machine" to overstep their boundaries why don't you put all your efforts into something productive? You catch for more bees with honey!

Barring that if you'd like to use your free speech argument to do whatever you like then the corporations have the right to use their free speech to say "kiss my @$$"!

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 12:08:47

Barring that if you'd like to use your free speech argument to do whatever you like then the corporations have the right to use their free speech to say "kiss my @$$"! - Frank

There is no such thing as Free Speech, it is a myth.

In Canada we have freedom of expression which is "subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

Who decides what is "reasonable" and what constitutes a "free and democratic" society?

Appointed judges.

In the us it is an even bigger myth as explained by Howard Zinn:

As I am about to argue, however, to depend on the simple existence of the First Amendment to guarantee our freedom of expression is a serious mistake, one that can cost us not only our liberties but, under certain circumstances, our lives.

"No Prior Restraint"

The language of the First Amendment looks absolute. "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." Yet in 1798, seven years after the First Amendment was adopted, Congress did exactly that, it passed laws abridging the freedom of speech-the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The Alien Act gave the president the power to deport "all such aliens as he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. The Sedition Act provided that "if any person shall write, print, utter, or publish . . . any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the U.S. or the President of the U.S., with intent to defame . . . or to bring either of them into contempt or disrepute" such persons could be fined $2,000 or jailed for two years.

  • Howard Zinn

Plus the US Constitution only limits the power of one branch of government - Congress - that does not mean that the judicial or legislative branch cannot limit free speech.

This is something every political activist, organizer, protester should know. When I hear the groans of "They're limiting my free speech" or "I have the right to free speech" I want to scream "You don't have free speech!!!!". We think we have all these freedoms and rights because they like to tell us we do, but really we don't.

Anyway, rant over.

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By Mike (anonymous) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 12:11:34

This strikes me as a very odd post. Of course people should be discussing real issues socially. This is (at least partially) what living in a society is about. But an alternative to protests or assembly? I don't think so.

Perhaps your real point is that people should be using the wealth of opportunity afforded by modern info sharing and networking technologies to discuss mature issues rather than spread Hollywood gossip?

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By HeartsAndMinds (anonymous) | Posted June 29, 2010 at 18:15:30

Although I am not sure how much actual policy change has come about from mass protests lately, I do feel they can play a strong role in mobilizing a mass, peaceful progressive movement. A large protest is a great way for activists to meet each other, and one well-organized by a labour union could be a great way to make the case to talented young activists as to why they should seek to unionize their workplaces or develop alternative forms of commerce (credit unions, co-ops) in their communities.

If labour isn't providing young activists with appealing tactics they could use to organize their communities for positive change, then the anarchists are going to be the only people presenting a model for social change.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 29, 2010 at 21:17:45

Why do you think protesting is the only thing protesters do. There's only a G8 summit, WTO meeting or other such farce every couple years, and usually not in the area. We haven't really seen anything like this since Quebec City.

I agree that there are much better means of getting your word across (ever hear of Food Not Bombs?). Anarchists are doing them every single day. I could start naming off community centres, gardens, libraries, co-op businesses, charities and the like till the sun comes up tomorrow morning. The thing is, THEY DO NOT MAKE THE NEWS. And when they do, there is virtually no mention of anarchism, even if it's one of the first things on the mind of everyone involved.

The fact that there are OTHER valuable means of social and political action (which clearly have failed to catch your notice so far) does not mean that protests are not useful or necessary for social change. And historically, protests have almost never been exclusively nonviolent (certainly not in Gandhi's India or MLK's America). I'll never forget mid-day, October 16th, 2001, when after a morning of rowdy protests in the Toronto financial district we got news that Mike Harris had officially stepped down and over a thousand people started dancing in the streets.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 14:47:08

Interesting comments posted above. I am working with some colleagues of mine involved in social justice groups and labour unions to try to talk to social movement org's and a few labour unions about looking at alternative models of mobilization, so I appreciate any comments or criticism. A few comments in response:

Kiely: "But the real problem is the people." --> Agreed, but that's sort of what I'm trying to draw attention to here. Democracy requires some mass agreement around issues, and clearly there is no sound consensus around many of the issues discussed at the G20, hence protesting. However, the goal of protesting can't simply be an expression of frustration, anger, and grievances. People don't change their opinions in response to those emotions--they are more likely to stand firm with those opinions. Protest has to constructively bring more people onside in an effort to secure a majority opinion. What we have seen since Seattle is that public images of violence alienate the massive chunk of the public who abhor violence (even violence to property). That's why I think constructive coalition/community building is of more importance than symbolic protests that feature violence, even tangentially.

Undustrial: "There is a fundamental unwillingness to cover radical issues or perspectives within the media, no matter how they're being brought up, or how much evidence they have." --> Good point, but I don't see that as a justification to continue with business-as-usual. Media are MORE than willing to cover blood-soaked stories involving conflict, and one story like that goes a lot further to colour public perceptions of social justice activists than 10 stories about successful fundraisers for Africa. Consider: Sunday night after a weekend of coverage, 60% of readers on the Toronto Star's website, a liberal bastion if there was one, believed the police response to protesters on Sunday was appropriate. Only ~40% were convinced it was heavy handed, with 14,000 or so votes cast. That's shocking to me, and I think that says a lot. Worse still, it goes some way to legitimize state violence against citizens with alternative ideas.

Mike: "Of course people should be discussing real issues socially. This is (at least partially) what living in a society is about. But an alternative to protests or assembly? I don't think so." --> Not an alternative to those, Mike, an alternative to mega-protests in the Seattle model. Those have become, at best, violent stalemates. What I'm arguing is that more good can be accomplished by 10 or 100 small protests that bring together communities, than mega-protests that have turned into adrenaline-fueled, set-piece battles with security forces. Do you know what I think was the most successful protest/assembly all weekend long, from both a moral AND public relations standpoint? The semi-spontaneous one (abetted by Twitter) the next day in front of Police HQ. After all the stormtroopers went home, the eyes and ears of the City were finally on real citizens who had their civil liberties violated during the summit, not burning cop cars and broken windows.

Thanks again for the input--I'm happy to receive it--it is great food for thought.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 30, 2010 at 16:08:27

Only ~40% were convinced it was heavy handed, with 14,000 or so votes cast. That's shocking to me, and I think that says a lot. Worse still, it goes some way to legitimize state violence against citizens with alternative ideas. - Borelli

Ugh!!! But that's what we're up against isn't it... People.

If 60% of people saw nothing wrong with what happened on the weekend there is a long way to go before a majority of people rally around the concept of a new way of doing things. The majority are eager to believe what they're told, don't question authority and are happy to be willfully duped into believing there are such things as "green" mass-marketed consumer products and corporate social responsibility.

We need some lions to lead the sheep! But they are rare and some would even say they are gone forever… having been hunted to extinction.

Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall glorify the hunter

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2010 at 19:28:24

It's definitely worth mentioning that even within the Black Bloc, there's always a fair bit of harsh criticism of the "break off and smash things" tactic. Many, if not most, are generally opposed. The fact that cops enjoy it so much really doesn't help - if we don't do it, they usually try themselves with undercover officers (see the Montebello video...). It's a tactical nightmare ever single time I've witnessed it. I'm all for going after cop cars and security fences, but getting everyone arrested by attacking random storefronts on the other side of downtown doesn't usually accomplish that. From everything I've heard even most of the bloc had nothing to do with the destruction spree, and a lot of people had a lot of questions about it, and it's worth mentioning that the cops pretty much let it happen - it's been on the cover of the Globe. What was the point of the billion-dollar security apparatus if they just let the destruction happen and went, primarily, for other demonstrators?

Anyone remember a few years back when one guy lost it one fateful morning downtown, and did a hundred thousand or so dollars in damage to plate glass windows from Main and Caroline down to around the courthouse. And I believe another lone crazy guy, around that time, nearly doubled his total with a hammer in St. Catherines, before he was apprehended. It really doesn't take many people to inflict an incredible amount of damage to expensive car and shop windows, and if you have tens of thousands of pissed off people.

Given what we now know of the fence, though, I can't say I would have been sorry to see the whole length of it hit the ground, though. We did something similar in Quebec City, and it was rather...enjoyable. Even the Supreme Court had agreed it was illegal, but said they couldn't do anything. Parliament had been denied details of the agreements we were signing (which could over-rule them) even after FOI requests. So we went and took down the fence ourselves. And for all the tear gas and rubber bullets, it was worth it. And for the record, that march started with a huge meeting in a football stadium, run by the unions, as well as a big counter-summit offering constructive alternatives. And in the end Amnesty harshly condemned the actions of the police (which, as a young witness at the time, were unbelievable).Oh, and the FTAA eventually failed anyway, as the (admittedly corrupt and despotic) rulers of South America and Mexico finally stood up for themselves.

Most people in this country never know how close we come to even scarier world government scenarios - the FTAA, MAI, the "Security and Prosperity Partnership" (a plan to create a North American Union, much like the EU, through "stealth integration"), and many others. And until you start thinking about the massive harm we're enduring right now as a result of the ones that make it through (NAFTA,GATT, the WTO etc), it's hard to put that in perspective. Would Hamilton's industrial base have vanished without the tempting offer of cheap foreign production? Heck, most Canadians never hear about some of the brutal street-fighting which keeps large scale Neo-Nazi organizing out of our major cities (and the ARA make the Black Bloc look like a walk in the park). Do you think the heroes who first fought for Labour Rights, Women's Rights (Emma Goldman in particular) or environmental in this country weren't dirty, disreputable and crass?

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 09:27:13

Undustrial: "Do you think the heroes who first fought for Labour Rights, Women's Rights (Emma Goldman in particular) or environmental in this country weren't dirty, disreputable and crass?" --> Excellent points, which I won't dispute. I'm not eager to fully characterize my position on violence in a comment on a website, but it's safe to say that I'm skeptical of the argument that there is such a thing as "violence" against property, and I have enormous sympathy for those activists who are driven to angry action due to emergent factors (like those individuals now denied the special diet supplement, or labour unionists during the tumultuous years early in the last century).

However my views (being in the choir and all) are not really those the Movement needs to be concerned with. Whether we like it or not, we are a culture that lives on mediated images and narratives, and our grand cultural obsession with cultural products from places like Hollywood has essentially driven the dirty, crass, and disreputable image/narrative to the fringes. The important stories of our past have been re-imagined by the culture-industry as polished and populated by one-dimensional (always virtuous) individuals. Even the slaves and warriors from our histories are depicted with gleaming white teeth, and act as erudite examples of the cultural characteristics we now value, as opposed to the ones that actually helped create those people.

Competing with these images in the very media where millions of people are first exposed to these re-imagined histories is going to be difficult I fear, which is why I believe it's far more important for the average weakly-informed suburbanite to KNOW an activist, than to have SEEN one on TV or the newspaper.

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 10:52:33

Yes Mr. Borelli, but we must beware the pabulum of flying figs.

We need some lions to lead the sheep!

Agreed, but hungry angry anarchist lions will only gobble'em all up. We need to be governed and we need a good strong government but surely we don't need one that's sheepish and corrupt.

I like the BBQ idea from Michael Borrelli shared with us by Kiely. Something special happens when folks flock together for sup and some cup. Really, I'm all up for a seedy potluck with cool fun frothy suck;-)

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2010-07-01 09:54:15

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 12:43:08

Agreed, but hungry angry anarchist lions will only gobble'em all up. We need to be governed and we need a good strong government but surely we don't need one that's sheepish and corrupt. - WRCU2

Ya, those aren't the Lions I'm looking for either WRCU2… and I love that analogy, it is very apropos.

I'm being somewhat cryptic in my choice of words because as Borelli commented above:

I'm not eager to fully characterize my position on violence in a comment on a website

I'm not eager to fully characterize my position on seizing control of power on a website. I am serious when I say these are questions better answered in the corner of seedy bars. Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like : )

But to clarify a little and maybe get some more discussion on this topic going, because I think it is a really good one. I'll lay some more cards on the table.

My reference to sheep and lions, as some may know, comes from a quote usually attributed to Alexander the Great:

"I fear not the army of lions led by a sheep, but rather the army of sheep led by a lion."

To me, this quote is very relevant. The "Anarchists" as they like to call themselves (although I don't believe that's what they actually are) are the army of Lions. The "establishment" or "powers that be" (or whatever you want to call them) do not fear that… they haven't since 300 BC apparently. What they do fear is a Lion leading Sheep (e.g., Crazy Horse, Louis Riel, MLK, JFK, Malcolm X). But those Lions are no more.

The reference to Sheep isn't just meant for the people either, as you point out, without the Lions our government becomes just a bunch of Sheep too. The world needs leaders, men and women who inspire, who have conviction and a cause or purpose beyond acquiring and retaining power.

But given my upbringing and what I was taught (which to this day has yet to be proven to me to be wrong), I have little hope of that happening. We have been divided, individualised, and converted from citizens to consumers. Access to our power system is tightly controlled, the Lions (if they exist) are vetted and refused (or worse). And the result of all of that is that people have become nothing more than the core-product of our economic system… like the march of workers into the Moloch Machine in the movie Metropolis.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 13:55:15

Kiely: "We have been divided, individualised, and converted from citizens to consumers." --> Absolutely. Consumerism reflects the relationship between an individual and a product and/or its creator, whereas citizenship refers to an individual's relationship with a community. The past 50-plus years of unbridled consumer capitalism has broken down people's relationships with one another, especially their communities; we've been atomized, socially, so that we now relate to products (material, cultural, etc.) more easily than we do to others.

We're all guilty of this to some extent (I admit, I spend my 4hrs a day on public transit relating to the music on my iPod, and only rarely chat with fellow commuters), but it's such a normalized practice. That's why I think it's important for us to normalize the flexing of our citizen-muscles, and social-capital scholars like Putnam have been suggesting for years that the breakdown of small, seemingly unimportant social/civic associations (from neighbourhood Bridge nights, to formal participation in Lions or Kiwanis Clubs).

Big protests may excite us the same way going to a big concert, sporting event, or other mass-meeting of people, but it's so very rare that change occurs on such a grand scale. I think politicians like Obama give us hope that grand aggregations of individuals can affect change, but an Obama-figure is a once-in-a-generation occurrence, yet it's the civic/community/grassroots infrastructure built up through less glamorous, smaller organizing that forces issues at the local level that allows societal change to happen on a constant basis.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 14:00:32

Also, on this topic, putting my money where my mouth is, perhaps I'll see if it's possible to organize some form of community BBQ in a public park this summer, while I'm on my parental leave. Either that, or we can get Thompsmr to resurrect his "angry drinks", or Dave K.'s Civic Drinks concept, because you're all right: This stuff is better discussed over a beer, off the record, so ideas can really get thrown around.

Plus, there's a damn election in this city this year, and it might be worthwhile for progressives to meet and discuss what can be done in what will be our main window for achieving change over the next 4 years.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 01, 2010 at 14:21:25

We're all guilty of this to some extent - Borelli

No doubt Borelli, no doubt.

… we can get Thompsmr to resurrect his "angry drinks", or Dave K.'s Civic Drinks concept, because you're all right: This stuff is better discussed over a beer, off the record, so ideas can really get thrown around. - Borelli

I'd be in to that. May be a rotating event at some of the places in our up and coming neighbourhoods (e.g., James St., Ottawa St., etc...)? No better excuse to get out and support some of these establishments.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 02, 2010 at 11:33:59

"Competing with these images in the very media where millions of people are first exposed to these re-imagined histories is going to be difficult I fear, which is why I believe it's far more important for the average weakly-informed suburbanite to KNOW an activist, than to have SEEN one on TV or the newspaper."

I really couldn't have put it better myself. And I'm writing a book on the concept right now.

The BBQ concept is one I really like, and one which often works out well. We did Food Not Bombs in Gore Park for ages, and I don't think we had an official complaint the whole time. Mayor Fred walked by one day, loved it, and tipped off the Spec. Another time, a cop walked over, looked around, scowled, and said under his breath "thank God for that!" Getting away from the soup kitchen idea though (as it did scare off a lot of "normal" people), I've been wanting to drag a simple solar BBQ out to a nearby park for years, possibly with little "how to build this at home" pamphlets. If there's one thing anarchism is actually about, it's integrating social/community building events with other forms of education and action. As much as I'd like to see every Starbucks chased out of our country, without something to fill the power vacuum in a more positive way, we'll just have Timmies, PAMS or the Second Cup open up in all their old locations.

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