Violence By Any Other Name

Saturday January 21, 2017 was a day of massive peaceful demonstrations rejecting the Trump regime in the United States. I fully support these standard protest actions but I am troubled by the response toward certain groups who choose other forms of contentious action. Specifically, acts by Anarchists such as the “Black Bloc” who even the so-called liberal voices on MSNBC referred to as “those who just want to make trouble” who “get in the way of those who want to make their voices heard.” Yes, those few “violent” protesters ruin things for everyone else. They don’t achieve anything, and very likely they detract from the real message of those who assembled in a proper fashion, wielding clever signs, chanting and the like.

But let us think a bit more about this attributed term “violence.” The new regime intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This change in “policy” would, (Mother Jones reports 1/6/17) KILL approximately 36,000 people per year. This is violence perpetrated by the state. Republicans aim to inflict upon the American public a degree of carnage equal to about one 9/11-style attack per month, month after month, indefinitely, in the name of Ayn Rand and Jesus Christ (I suppose). Admittedly, we could also count the “casualties,” aka killings in now former president Obama’s drone wars. These include school children, grandparents, hospital patients, etc., and the number would not be pretty either. The point is states design policies that kill people, either by malicious intent, imprecision, carelessness, or a combination of all three. They are also adept at labeling this violent behavior as an inevitability of policy cloaked in an officially sanctioned legitimacy. The state can simply say, as a parent would to a child, this must be done, for reasons you cannot understand and we therefore need not explain.

The Black Bloc seems to have an organizational policy (somewhat ironically as Anarchists) of window breaking, turning over trashcans, and the occasional car burning. And this is whom the press attaches the label “violent.” Earlier I spoke of the cost in lives of an ACA repeal (36,000 per year). Add to this the cost of mass deregulation allowing corporations to pollute at will, thus accelerating the rate of climate change, this following the three hottest years on record…ever. Is this reversal in “policy” not an act of violence unleashed upon all life on the planet? Should it not be spoken of as such?

Yet, if we dare speak collectively against this we may only assemble on sidewalks and other officially sanctioned areas to use our voice less we be arrested. We must beg the state for permits that make our gatherings permissible. Mind you, the state opposition has, and will continue to make it more difficult for us to assemble “legitimately.” In other words, they will continue to, with the apparent assistance of even the so-called liberal media outlets, delegitimize forms of resistance that actually may work.

At this point I don’t recommend that we begin to don black suits with Guy Fawkes masks and set about smashing things…not because these actions would be violent, rather because they would likely be ineffective. I ask that we leave the door open to whatever form of contentious action that may actually work in resisting an illegitimate, soon to be murderous, verifiably sleazy, president Trump.

*This essay was inspired by a book called The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos (2015 Left Bank Books)

Kenneth R. Culton is Associate Professor and Sociology Department Chair at Niagara University.